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Loud Talkers in Restaurants

  • g

Just wanna take a moment to vent here. Maureen (my wife) and I just returned from a long walk around our neighborhood (Park Slope in Brooklyn). While we were out we decided to stop in a local place for a beer and a snack. This was around 4:30 on July 4th. Place we stopped had some people at tables, maybe a little less than half full, everyone sitting, eating, drinking, chatting quietly and amiably. Nice, lazy holiday atmosphere.

About halfway through our visit, a couple came in and took the table next to ours and began a long, boring conversation in voices loud enough to be heard in the kitchen. They weren't shouting or being obviously disruptive, but they were quite distracting in a very annoying way.

Said couple was young and looked at first glance to be intelligent enough to understand that no one really wanted to hear their self-important chattering, but obviously they were not. Glances from us were misinterpreted as admiring, I'm sure, when they were meant to be disapproving.

We know that some older people develop hearing loss and tend to speak more loudly, and we know that sometimes people imbibe a little too much and can get boisterous. These are situations we accept as part of dining out. But couples who "converse" with each other in voices loud enough to distract others are fast becoming our most hated restaurant pests. Maybe we're on an extended run of bad luck, but it seems to me that my wife and I are encountering more and more such people of late.

Is there any way to deal with such boors?

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  1. c
    Caitlin McGrath

    How about the classic of pointing out the disruption to an employee--server, manager, whoever's appropriate--and see if they will deal with the situation by asking the offenders not to broadcast their conversation? Of course, if the disruption is confined to nearby tables and the management is unwilling to help, you could ask to move. It's a pain for you, but you're out of earshot (or farther from the disruption, at least), and perhaps then offenders might pause to wonder or even inquire why you obviously did not want to sit near them.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

      My personal experience is that, unfortunately, these people are invariable clueless to the fact that their conversations are being broadcast so loudly that people around them are being drawn into them. They would probably consider you an eavesdropper if you were to point this out to them, much like a cellphone user who seems to think strangers present should be able and willing to ignore loud conversations on personal matters in public.

      Also unfortunately, these incidents seem to be memorable, so I can clearly remember the life story of a woman I sat near more than ten years ago, someone I would never have wanted to meet. (Ask me about her history of hair colors and styles, and her family history of crime and mental illness!)

      1. re: ironmom

        How did you know that one of them did not have trouble hearing?That would explain one talking loud to be heard and the other talking loud because they could not hear themselves.

        1. re: Laura

          If you wanted to assume that everyone who speaks loudly enough to be clearly heard by those around them in a quiet restaurant is hard of hearing, I suppose you could. I don't make that assumption.

          In fact, it's not always both persons talking loudly. Often only one person's voice carries so clearly as to be understood.

          And sometimes, it's only you whose seat is positioned to hear them clearly.

          1. re: Laura
            George Lynch

            I try to be cognizant of that, but given the number of times we've encountered loud talkers recently, I'd have to conclude that deafness is contagious and spreading rapidly in New York City. It seems to me to be the case more often than not of someone who loves the sound of his (and occasionally her) voice.

            In fact, now that I think of it, it's the polar opposite of someone who talks so softly you have to ask him (and occasionally her) to speak up. I've known people who did this to the extent that I just make believe I heard what they said.

          2. re: ironmom

            I agree -- people who have loud conversations just don't get it. I was on the Long Island Railroad once where a guy standing by the door was carrying on a VERY loud cell phone call -- all about his nervous breakdown and hospitalization. He was very concerned about what his employees would think -- but not about the rest of us, apparently.

        2. Since you were sitting next to them, I would have leaned over and asked very sweetly if they would mind lowering their voices a bit so you could converse with your wife. If that didn't work, then I'd ask to be moved to another table.

          1. m
            Mike Colicchio

            This is a very difficult area. I'll relate a terrible experiance I had six weeks or so again in Paris. I should have just asked to be moved but we were just finishing our main course.

            The restaurant was a one star Michelin and owned by Jacques Cagna. A Parisian named Francois and his American "wife" were seated next to us. He had been drinking prior and was obnoxiously loud from the start. He was insisting on ordering her food and was very put off that she wanted some choice in the selection.

            Once they ordered it became worse. He was sucking on her fingers and discussing their rendevous (no way they were married). His language deteriorated to a point where he rattled off three Motherf*****s within 10 seconds. I had enough and politely asked if he would please stop cursing.

            He exploded! Cursing now at the top of his lungs we now were stupid Americans. Classless, stupid ignorants dolts who should leave his city immediately before he kills us. Yes, he threatened to kill us for listening to his conversation! I said I couldn't help it since he was so loud. We were moved for dessert and when I went to the bathroom he followed me and started in again. His "wife" then came over and said that in the U.S. this behavior would not be acceptable but since he was at "home" and English was his second language, learned from movies, he should be allowed to speak however he wanted. I was in the wrong simply because I was eavesdropping.

            Unbelievable. He was very loud throughout the meal and others were noticing. I was seated within five feet of him and just couldn't ignore it.

            I know that I could have just asked to have been moved but I couldn't believe that someone would behave this way in a restaurant. I had to say something.

            Oh well. I now have an even greater distaste for Frenchmen. Love the city but you can keep the people who would be speaking German if not for us stupid Americans. Can someone top this?

            6 Replies
            1. re: Mike Colicchio
              George Lynch

              It sure sounds like you somehow got into "The Twilight Zone" of dining: in a foreign country, in a restaurant where you were not known, being attacked by an obnoxious "citizen". There doesn't seem to be any right answer for what you should've done.

              I do think, though, that you going aggressively to the restaurant manager and insisting that this guy be tossed out on his ass might have been your best bet.

              But maybe not. Sounds like you might have a skit that Sid Caesar would've loved...

              1. re: Mike Colicchio

                'Love the city but you can keep the people who would be speaking German if not for us stupid Americans'.

                Mike, this is priceless.

                1. re: Deborah-LA

                  And it would have been the perfect retort to said Frenchman. :-)

                2. re: Mike Colicchio

                  I would have complained loudly to the restaurant manager and, if necessary, threatened to call the police and denounce the man for his homicidal threats; nobody wants the Préfecture in their restaurant.

                  As for your comment about Frenchmen who would be speaking German were it not for the stupid Americans, thank you for that blatant troll; I hope you felt better for writing it.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    Agreed - and does nothing to make us look any less like stupid, pompous Americans.

                  2. re: Mike Colicchio

                    I think you should have keeeled him in zee bathroom by putting his head in le bidet.

                  3. my girlfriends uncle, a very polite but straight to the point guy dealt with this once on a metro north train with a woman speaking loudly on a celliphone at 8am. he turned to her and asked her if it would bother her if he began reading his wall street journal aloud to himself. she quieted down. only works if you have a paper or book w/you i guess.


                    1. George,

                      I had a similar experience at Casa, a small Brazilian place in the West Village. We were across the narrow space from a group of eight who were ridiculously loud. Both our waiter ("But they are one of my tables, too...") and the manager ("I know they are loud but I can't ask them to quiet down") refused to do anything despite complaints from more than one table.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Dave Feldman

                        At that point I probably would have said something (quite loudly so that others could hear it) like, "Either they go, or we go." With enough oomph, you may get other groups to follow you out.

                      2. Maybe the couple just didn't know one another that well and needed to talk loudly to feel comfortable. And quite possibly they were trying to impress each other. I personally think that public decorum has taken a nosedive of epic proportions, as is evidenced by the comment about the loud talker on the cell phone. People simply have no sense of how their behavior affects others, how their conversations carry and how they act. It's pitiful. Most of the time I feel sorry for them at the same time as being annoyed, but when I am in a bathroom stall and the person next to me is carrying on a conversation while doing her business, I have to think that something is profoundly wrong with that.

                        1. My husband won't let me deal with loud talkers, but back in the days when people smoked in restaurants, I did once ask someone to try to keep their cigarette smoke from wafting our way. I simply leaned over and said, "I know it's difficult, but could you try blowing the smoke in the other direction? I'd really appreciate it." My tone was non-confrontational and the woman was not offended. She obligingly blew her smoke at her dining companions from that point on!

                          I think you could do the same thing with the loud talkers. Just say, with an apologetic smile, "I know it's difficult, but do you think you could lower your voices? We'd really appreciate it." This might work a lot better than saying what you really want to say, which is something along the lines of "You ignorant fools ..."

                          1. I am a person with a loud speaking voice. I think I picked it up from my mother, who grew up in a huge, boisterous family where everyone talks over everyone in order to be noticed. I am very self-conscious about it. Unfortunately, it's a habit I have found very difficult to break--especially after a glass of wine or two or when I am really excited or agitated.

                            If I were in a restaurant talking loudly enough that my "private" conversation could be heard by anyone other than my dining companion, I would view it as a kindness if someone would discreetly ask me to lower my voice. I would also be incredibly embarrassed and maybe even a little defensive as a result. So, if there were a time to do it that seemed most tactful--ideally when my companion stepped away for a moment if possible--and certainly not in front of the waitstaff, I would be most grateful. Also, do it sooner, rather than later. The sooner you do it, the less "conversation" I have to reply in my mind, feeling horrified over.

                            I suspect that, like me, most loud talkers are aware of their issues and, like me, have found the habit hard to break or control. Or, they could just be insensitive jerks. For the sake of people like me, be gentle. :)


                            1. We were the offending party at one time. If was several years ago in a foreign country. We were a group of about 20 high school friends. We were at the tiny second floor of this restaurant, with very low ceilings. We were on vacation, and were very boisterous, esp. after several bottles of wine and some whisky. There were two other tables very close together. One table joined in with the festivities, sharing drinks and food with us and in general had a great time. The other table was not too happy about all that was going on.

                              I don't know what the solution is. Think back about it I think it would be impossible to ask us to be quiet, as we have not seen each other for several years. The table who joined us had a great time. The table who didn't did not.

                              1. By the way, I just now realized that George's post on this topic was five YEARS ago. How did this get resurrected? Hilarious!


                                2 Replies
                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  ROFL! Yet another one - various posts on vanilla have done the same thing in the past few days. Funny. :-)

                                  1. re: LindaWhit

                                    One new response to an old thread will resurrect it. Those of us who used Hot Posts on the old site used to see this every time it happened. Now everyone can see it.

                                2. being deaf in one ear, once the ambient noise in a restaurant crosses a certain decibel level i am almost completely deaf, so hearing conversation at my table is a paerticular feat. My DW and I had an experience with a boisterous lady at the next table and I went to the hostess and asked if the waiter could come over and tell us that the table in the other area of the restaurant was available and were we interested in moving. No hard feeling to the loud lady.

                                  i do not mind people at other tables using their cell fones as long as they keep their decibel level at a reasonable level. I would much prefer sitting next to a considerate patron on the fone than two loud patrons speaking to each other.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: jfood

                                    I have the same exact problem -- as soon as the noise gets to a certain level, it becomes "white noise"... fortunately I am an adept lip-reader and can usually follow things. My wife knows when it's happening because I start to stare.

                                  2. I share your pain. Americans in ghereal talk much louder in restaurants than do Europeans; folks in NY surpass that decibel level, and well, Brooklyn, they say we are off the charts. I don't think there is anything that can be done.

                                    It is annoying, even embarrasing to witness people giving out so much personal information in a public place. At dinner at a very nice restaurant in Park Slope last week, we were seated next to a young couple who discussed the intimate details of why they disagreed on having children and how their awful parents made them have the attitudes they have today. There are some things I really have no need to know.

                                    The kicker was one night this week when a woman at the next table, obviously bored with her date's inane drivel of a conversation, played scrabble on her cell phone as he droned on and on.

                                    1. On one occasion in a restaurant where we were well-known to a waiter, we were seated in a section where there was a loud bunch of people. Through eye contact alone the waiter asked us if we wanted to move; we did. The group making the noise looked at us in amazement!

                                      1. My husband and I actually enjoy listening to loud conversations at neighboring tables. We've overheard some amazingly unbelievable discussions over the years. The experience makes us realize how truly lucky we were to discover each other in a sea swarming with some mighty peculiar fish!

                                        1. I don't generally mind loud children or even boisterous conversations. I was one once and have participated in them as well.

                                          But one guy still annoys the hell out of me even though this experience was probably two years ago. At a stylish Chinese restaurant, he was on a cell phone loudly discussing his real estate wheeling and dealing so that no one in the whole place could ignore him. "Well at $800,000, you could get . . . "

                                          In addition to having some fantasies that involved a baseball bat and the man's head, I really wanted to walk up to him and scream at him (and into the cell phone) "DO YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE THE RUDEST PERSON IN ALL OF SAN DIEGO!" Only my awareness that this action would have made me the second rudest kept me in my seat.

                                          But for me the real kicker was toward the end of the conversation, when the gentleman (?) starting giving his phone number out - and I was going to remember it for possible future reference - and suddenly he lowered his voice, realizing that maybe he didn't want the whole restaurant to be able to call him at 3 AM.

                                          For me that was the last straw. Not only was this rude bastard loud, he knew he was loud, and he knew that he could have been much quieter. Arrrrgggggghhhhh!

                                          Anyway, I did nothing about it, but clearly I'm still seething years later. At least I know why I don't carry a baseball bat in my car.


                                          1. I recently ate at a restaurant with a group of friends, and we were louder than we should have been. The restaurant is a late-night one, and not particularly quiet, but I looked across the room and saw one couple obviously pissed at us. I knew I couldn't control the whole group, so I did a bit of hushing on our side and had our waiter send the couple two glasses of Champagne with an apology. We toasted them from accross the room. They ended up joining us for a cup of coffee at the end. They may not have loved the noise, but we were forgiven!

                                            1. SWMBO and I did A Date a few years ago. (Gran'mah and Paw-puh were pullin' down prison duty at Castle Ranger, planning their own evening of partying, popcorn, and movies.) We took advantage of their generous offer of hospitality by going out to one of our favorite restaurants a mere 40 miles distant.

                                              The evening started off like most of Real Life's® hopeful evenings: one "disaster" after another but nothing a little patience (and two 800 mg Motrin[1]) couldn't fix. We arrived at the restaurant to find we had it to ourselves! [Bonus!] I'm one of those type of patrons that enjoys a good pampering and an empty restaurant means that the servers often hover like yellow jackets at a picnic table. I like this. As we were seated, the staff converged like we were magnetized and they were iron filings. We had bread, water, drinks, a running conversation (not with ourselves) with the owner/proprietor, and immediately started to relax. Ten minutes into this spa-like setting, a trio of silver foxes arrived. They were greeted like long-lost family and seated at the table next to us.

                                              At first, I felt the poison of Jealousy coursing through my entire being. Here we had the ENTIRE restaurant (staff and floor) all to ourselves and now we had to share. During my private grousing, the similarity between what I was thinking and some toddler's philosophy as Center of the Known Universe surfaced. That revelation and comparison was unpleasant and almost enough to spoil the remaining portion of my evening. But SWMBO saw my sulk forming -- and being a mom to multiples -- started to massage my smarting ego.

                                              Ibrahim, the owner, came out to tell us all about the food he was preparing that night. Duck with port sauce, Pork Marsala, Beef Wellington, Sautéed Salmon, and Pheasant were the specials. Stuffed Portabello, crab cakes, creme d'asperagus soup, and a salad with walnuts [<YEESH!> A more VILE-tasting nut there isn't! Yuck! Ick! Phooey!] were described in gory detail. I didn't remember anything after the Pork Marsala, though, because I tuned out. I'd made my choice and I was stickin' to it. This made remembering what I wanted with the rest of the meal sort of difficult but SWMBO is a more-attentive listener so she was able to (more-or-less) recite the specials I missed. Our server came back and we placed our order for food and wine.

                                              During this time, I happen to glance over at the trio. The lone male looked down quickly and turned an interesting shade of crimson. I didn't understand the reaction because all we'd done was talk about food, the menu, the difficulty that She was having deciding between Salmon, Beef, Pork, Duck, Pheasant, Pasta, wine, salad, soup, appetizer, and the kids... <Ding!> The proverbial light bulb clicked bright.

                                              I dropped my voice and Herself nodded. She'd witnessed a similar event with one of the women. We dropped our voices conspiratorially.

                                              It took a few minutes to get "back in the mood" but the restaurant's ambiance worked its magic; pretty soon we were back to joking and talking about every topic that was verboten around the daughter-units. As we talked, there were pauses between topics (normal for us) which seemed to get filled by noises coming from the trio's table. Our pauses lengthened -- usually in mid-thought... It was at one such point where I was talking about writing Da Book[2] and heard, "...it was the largest kielbasa I'd ever seen! And it just kept coming!" The two women of the trio were guffawing, SWMBO was shaking with laughter, and I was burning from my ears to my toes because I was definitely only half-listening when the punchline was delivered.

                                              The male fox was grinning that pleased look of "Gotchya!" at our table and asked, "Have either of you been to Poland?"

                                              I'm sure I looked like Daughter-units Alpha and Beta after I caught them filching Oreo's that afternoon. I didn't, couldn't, answer.

                                              "Well?" he continued good-naturedly, "Have you?"

                                              SWMBO smiled, very sheepishly, and answered him, "No. Only Germany."

                                              "Ah... Germany's beautiful, too, but Poland's stunningly beautiful! You would both like it. By the way, I've been shamefully eaves-dropping on your conversation, too. How'd you like to 'join' us, since we're obviously wanting to hear each other's stories?"

                                              And that's how we got caught.

                                              [1] Better living through the US Pharmaceutical Industry!
                                              [2] SWMBO took it amazingly well, considering her viewpoints on my sharing family "secrets."

                                              1. My favorite story:

                                                Some friends of mine were at a diner in Manhattan. Laughing, being silly, probably loud (it's a DINER) and woman walked over to them and said 'Did it EVER occur to you that some people might be in MOURNING!!!'

                                                What the hell do you say to that?

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: krissywats

                                                  "Nope...not in a diner!"

                                                  Depending on her demeanor, it could get harsher, too.

                                                  1. re: krissywats

                                                    Snappy answers to stupid questions:

                                                    "Really? I didn't see any funeral baked meats on the menu, I must have slid past that page!"

                                                    "Do you mean someone just died at your table? No? What the hell are you doing mourning in a diner then?"

                                                    "Shouldn't you be at home sitting shiva then?"

                                                    "For what, your sense of humour?"

                                                    "Woo hoo, one fewer person on the N train!"

                                                    "Are they mourning because he's dead, or because you're not?"

                                                    "Wow, even dead people can't get tables at Le Bernardin, huh?"

                                                    "I'm sorry, this is the no-mourning section, you'll need to move elsewhere if you need to weep in peace."

                                                    "Not really. Have a nice day!"

                                                  2. Last year, we were in Vegas in a very nice, quiet and romantic restaurant. The guy at the next table took about a dozen calls on his cell phone(he did not make any himself)and he talked loud enough for anybody but the most blithering idiot to tell that the calls were not about anything that couldn't wait for a more appropriate time.

                                                    Finally, I turned around, looked at him and said in my most condecending tone, "You know, those things have an "off" switch"...