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Aug 31, 2010 08:03 PM

Why do so many people tolerate noisy restaurants?

My hearing is normal (it's been recently tested). I can't understand why so many of the most popular restaurants in the U.S. are so noisy that it's almost impossible to carry on a normal conversation. For example, CUT by Wolfgang Puck and Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles are deafeningly loud with both loud conversation and raucous music (at CUT). This is not the case at most nice restaurants in Europe where a civilized conversation in normal tone of voice is possible. I know that this will sound terribly elitist, but I'm beginning to think that many people who go to these "in" dining places in the U.S. are only interested in the "scene" or maybe the food, and have no interest in either serious or meaningful converstion when they dine out. Am I wrong...or is there another explanation as to why noisy restaurants seem to be so popular?

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  1. You have brought up a major pet-peeve with me - restaurant noise levels.

    I always add a comment on this, in every review, as it bothers me greatly.

    I do not know what the draw is, but many feel that it indicates a "happening" place. To me, it indicates that there may well be a lot of ill-behaved people dining there.

    I want to hear all at my table. I do not care to hear all at every other table.

    Though I can project my voice to the "cheap seats," I do not wish to do so, when dining.

    We love a couple of local restaurants, BUT I cannot hear, and neither can my guests. In one instance, one owner will always come by and ask, "other than the noise, how was everything?" He knows how I feel, but the surfaces are all very hard, and reflective.

    Love the food, the wine, the service and almost everything else about it - but the din of the noise.


    7 Replies
    1. re: Bill Hunt

      I think its all personal perception. I live in San Diego and have been to many restaurants that others rail against as being loud. Cucina Urbana comes to mind. I have never been bothered by it or had my dinner effected by it. Doesn't make me right and others wrong but it's some thing that doesn't bother me.

      1. re: Bill Hunt

        I prefer a quiet place but prefer noisy place to a quiet place that has one noisy table ....usually next to mine..sometimes we just turn our chairs and face the table and watch the conversation go back and forth like a tennis match.... I hate it when I have to listen to someone and hear every detail of their trip to Thailand or how much they hate their Boss or the details of what they threw up the last time they ate at this restaurant and sort of prefer a loud roar of undefinable noise. Maybe there should be a place outside next to smokers for extremely loud people ...or maybe a table can request a cone of silence ... that would be nice.
        one rare occasions I just use my cell phone to call my wife on the other side of the table but sometimes she doesn't pick up because she cant hear it ring.

        1. re: Inukun

          Ah, that is a VERY good point.

          There is a lovely little restaurant with great food and fun wines in San Mateo, CA, USA. Normally, it is nice and quiet, just as I like. Not that long ago, there was one table of 8, IIRC, who were screaming and shouting. I can only guess that they were celebrating something, and that all were drunk. Twice someone from the FOH asked them to quiet things down, and twice they ignored the request, possibly even screaming more loudly. On the third trip to the table, the host/GM/whomever, told them to pay the bill and leave immediately. As they paraded through the full dining room, every patron stood and applauded - quietly.

          Reviewed a nice restaurant in New Orleans. Lovely setting, quiet demeanor, and great food and service - except for one table of about 10. They were just like the San Mateo group. I have heard a quieter crowd at the Ole Miss vs LSU games. We were separated from them by a partial wall. We could not carry on a conversation, and were perhaps 25 ft. from them. I felt so very sorry for a table of 4, just beyond that partial wall, that was there for a business dinner. I cannot imagine trying to make a presentation to clients, or potential clients with a rodeo going on a few feet away. That party of four tolerated the din, and then grabbed a waiter, paid the bill, folded up the presentation, and stormed out. I doubt that any will ever be back, and therein is the shame. The restaurant is great for a business dinner, the food excellent and the service is very good. However, one "over-the-top" party ruined it for most diners, including my table.

          In PHX, we have two great restaurants, that are just flat too noisy to enjoy. Again, the food is great, the service excellent, but you cannot hear yourself think, much less talk. We tried having a business dinner in one's curtained, raised "board room," and could not hear, due to the noise from behind the thick curtains.

          This is not just a US issue. When dining in Mayfair, we were seated upstairs at a nice French restaurant. One table for four was acting like they were at a rugby match, and their team behind. We were seated in the opposite corner of the dining room. We were astounded at the clamor (clamour, if you are in the UK). As patrons began leaving, mostly pointing at that table, one group of four, kept moving to any vacant table, farther from the 4. Every time that a table vacated, they grabbed their plates and wine, and just moved, even before that table could be bussed. They'd stack the used plates on their previous table, and keep moving away. Finally, the 4 left, and all was quiet. Though the two men appeared to be from the UK, or maybe Australia, the two women were definitely from the US. As we left, I apologized to the moving party of four, since half of the noise came from US diners. I told them that such was not that common in the US either, and expressed my displeasure.

          No, I am just not a fan of trying to dine amid noise. I have also noticed that many professional reviewers have started adding comments on the noise level, and that some dining sites have included a dB meter in their reviews. I think that too many are just ill-bred, and there is a revolt brewing. Also, restauranteurs are trying to create the illusion that they have a "happening place," with highly reflective, hard surfaces, is starting to backfire.

          Hunt - just the old guy in the room, who likes to be able to speak to his wife, and his guests without shouting.

        2. re: Bill Hunt


          We share a devotion to a certain tile & mirrored joint in the Crescent City that, as we both know, can be awfully loud on occasion but I try not to let that detract from my fun in there. However, in that locale as in others, I have noticed noise that I ascribe to a lack of standards of public behavior. Have a great time at your table, sure...but don't annoy everyone else.

          People now take their children out to restaurants---and they should do so to get the kids accustomed to dining out---but parents let the rug rats run about and "be cute." Sorry, they are not cute...they are, in the main, annoying. THis is the fault of the parents. Again, lack of standards of oublic behavior.

          In other palces, as mentioned in this thread, the house turns up the so-called "music" to gin up sales. There is simply no need for this but it is now customary. People expect it....

          I am on record as saying that I will go to Mario's hash house "Babbo" only of someone else is paying and only if I can get in-and-out early. And, truth to tell, I'd rather be at old family favorite places throughout Manhattan(dwindling though they may be)

          You should run to Wilton's when next in London. Busy, but respectfully murmered, if there be such a word.

          1. re: hazelhurst

            That noise level is another reason that I will often opt for upstairs (along with the reservation aspect). Once, people had fund downstairs, but did not intrude on the dining of others. Now, it seems that everyone is standing, screaming "look at me!" As the surfaces have not changed in my lifetime, it has to be the clientele that has. Same for my country club - the kids and their children carry on like an LSU homecoming game (or ASU in this case). They have even taken to stopping by the putting green to relieve themselves in the bushes. Just bad, bad form, but it seems to be a sign of the times.

            I will look into Wilton's. We're set for Gordon Ramsey's at Claridge's, and are on standby for Savoy House, if they get it opened in time. We're hosting two board dinners too, and the sites have not been chosen, to my knowledge. We're dining atop the hotel on the first night, when our head of Philanthrophy arrives. I think that leaves one more night. As Wilton's is just up the street from L'Oranger (on St. James), we know the neighborhood well. Thanks for reminding me, as we head over in October.

            Now, L'Oranger has hard surfaces too, but the dining experience is very quiet and subdued. Think that it's the patrons.

            I'll report on Wilton's on the UK board, if we get there.

            See ya'


            1. re: Bill Hunt

              It is indeed a sign of the times but I think you'll agree that the problem largely comes from the arrivistes and they are famously fickle and tend to migrate elsewhere...they just pop up like a plague from time to time.

              October is a fine time at Wilton's..oysters should be excellent. I am certain the you, of all people, will revel in it.

              1. re: hazelhurst

                Since we might miss some of the oysters in NOLA in mid-Oct (remains to be seen?), maybe we'll make up for it at Wilton's.

                OTOH, there will be much to dine on in NOLA, and we hope that the restaurant noise is not too high. We only get to add one new spot on this trip, due to familial matters/events, but I hold out hope for quieter and more accommodating environs. Will report.


        3. Short answer: Because they want to.

          I hate it too, but we all know the research shows it raises the average check and hastens table turnovers.

          6 Replies
          1. re: lemons

            Wow...that's an insight that never occurred to me! If patrons can't get involved in conversation, they will not hang around as long...makes great sense that restauranteurs might use this tactic to increase turnover.

            1. re: josephnl

              There have also been studies that show the pace of the music directly influences the pace at which people eat. Put on rock n roll and your tables will turn faster and order more drinks. Classical makes for a slower, more deliberate experience.

                1. re: mojoeater

                  But which is the more enjoyable?

                  If I want fast, I will grab something at Del Taco, and eat it in my AMG, while driving at 150 mph. That is not how I enjoy my dining, regardless of what some Pavlovian stimuli might wish to induce in me, and others.

                  Luckily, I can vote with my reservations, and let those folk find others to "turn" quickly.


                2. re: josephnl

                  What would be next? Perhaps chairs that deliver an electrical jolt at say 20 mins., so the patrons flee?


                3. re: lemons

                  " and hastens table turnovers."

                  You could be correct here. However, if the Board of Health sees all the patrons running, with blood streaming from their ears, maybe something will be done?


                4. I think it's really a personality thing . . . strong extroverts prefer the "energy" of large crowds of people. It's how they recharge their own battery. The "happening" places tend to be filled with extroverts.
                  That said, and me being an introvert, I much prefer something quieter where I can hear others as well as hear myself think. Introverts don't do well for very long stretches in loud noisy environments. Sometimes I really enjoy the loud noisy vibe just to people watch and observe, and of course to hang out and enjoy the company of an extrovert friend, but it really kind of drains me after a time.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: vday

                    Was just thinking that as I scrolled down vday. If the place is too noisy I do an about face usually, unless I can spot a quiet corner somewhere. There are so many more extroverts than introverts, and the world is becoming more extrovert oriented every day. I'm looking at you cell phones and face book.

                    1. re: givemecarbs

                      We had worked hard to get a hot reservation some years back. We arrived and were greeted by a very, very young hostess. The dining room was filled with people, and most were screaming into perhaps two cell-phones - lot of high level business deals going down, and each wanted all to hear of their monetary gains. The hostess looked at our faces and said, "I'll bet that you would like to be seated in the quiet room." How perceptive of such a young lady. She led us to a room, that had a view of the open kitchen and of that dining room, but it WAS quiet. She went on to explain that the chef wanted to create a "vibrant dining atmosphere" with the open kitchen and hard surfaces, but understood that not everyone wanted to be shouting into cell phones. He had succeeded. We were quite happy, and the food and service were excellent. Had we been forced to sit in the fray, we'd have left and missed what the restaurant did best - serve some of the best food in all of Hawai`i.

                      This chef/owner got it right. He provided one restaurant that served two different groups well. Unfortunately, many just go for the Mardi-Gras atmosphere, and some will just never dine there.

                      It would be like having a roadhouse, where you have a "fighting" area, and a "non-fighting" area. One could pick and choose. Been in too many of those, where there was only a "fighting" area. Unfortunately for some, I do not fight fair.


                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Heh. Love your comments Bill. Yesterday after reading this thread I went with my friend to an Irish style pub during happy hour. My friend really hates noisy restaurants. The joint was jumping with people at the bar watching a ball game on the one rather small tv and families and couples grabbing an early dinner. I spied a four top that appeared to be an oasis in a desert of noise and asked for and got it.
                        I was worried that my friend would be uncomfortable but it turned out to be the perfect spot. We had a leisurely meal and were able to talk easily. I'd like to pat myself on the back and say that over the years I've learned to be assertive about getting a good table and developed a knack for picking one out, but it really was the acoustics. They were amazing, the ceiling was so high. It felt like we were on a small island in a rushing river. The chatter from the diners blended with the bar patrons commenting on the game to make a happy buzz. We were near the entrance, a great place to watch the people entering and being seated.
                        I think a lot of times the bar can be more sedate than the main dining area. It was helpful that the tv wasn't huge. Was actually going to post about the bar area being comfy in the thread about dining alone:
                        I was so disappointed to find it locked. Sniff.

                    2. re: vday

                      I'm a huge extrovert. I loathe noisy restaurants. I think what you're picking up on is a bit more narrow than just being extroverted.

                    3. you are wrong.

                      i love a nice quiet restaurant sometimes. sometimes i like a more raucous and "trendy" place. Or something inbetween. Or a pub to watch a game and have some ale and grub. (Of course presuming the food is good in all. ) And i've had "civilized conversations" in all of them. Sometimes even "serious or meaningful" ones

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: thew

                        Obviously, your ears are much younger than mine are. Also, I'd guess that you did not grow up photographing rock groups from inside the barricades. Oh how I wish I had adopted earplugs back then. OTOH, the noise from my 45's might have done the job too - even with earphones?

                        I can speak over almost anything, this side of grenades, but hearing the reply is an issue - poor deaf, old Bill...


                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          no, but i did spend the 90's as a VJ at all night raves and trance parties around the world that made the preceding 30 years of rock and roll sound like a whisper in comparison

                          1. re: thew

                            which would make a loud resto more tolerable to you. half-deaf n all.

                            1. re: thew

                              I guess that rock got even louder, from my roots!


                            2. re: Bill Hunt

                              Just so long as we elders get some respect. Sir :)

                          2. I agree with previous posters that it is personal perception. My tolerance for noise is low including many restaurants, movie theaters, public transport, etc. My partner is the opposite and we constantly adjust the volume of the stereo and TV to our own liking.
                            And some of it is cultural. When I go out with my family to a Chinese restaurant, it has to be noisy, otherwise, it is a no go. And everyone talks louder and louder. Noise equals a good time.