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Feb 19, 2012 10:54 PM

What is it about noisy restaurants that.... [moved from General Chowhounding board]

What is it about noisy restaurants that is obviously so appealing to many diners? We went to one of L.A.'s most popular new restaurants last evening where the food and service are both wonderful. However, the decibel level in the bar and dining room had to be approximately equivalent to that at the end of the main runway at was truly deafening. We're not talking somewhat loud, we're talking deafening!! Not only was it impossible to speak over the music without shouting, it was pretty close to being painful (and I know that my hearing is normal!). There were obviously some other diners who were complaining about the extremely loud music, but the restaurant was packed and clearly most of the diners were not especially bothered by what was by any measure, truly painful and deafening music. When we dine out, we like to relax over good food and wine, and enjoy conversing without having to shout. This is the way it used to be in most good restaurants in the US, and it is still the norm at most nice restaurants in Europe.

It seems that most really good and interesting new restaurants, especially on the West Coast, intentionally create an atmosphere that is "high energy". i.e., extremely noisy. What is it about this environment that appeals to so many patrons?

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  1. Although I don't get to LA,. I would argue the idea that "really good and interesting restaurants...are intentionally noisy." I would certainly say that is true of places that want to be of the moment and crazily popular, but then they are not all about the food, are they? I think the people who go there one to be "of the moment" and really the food is secondary to the buzz but at the same time they wouldn't want to be in a place that got bad reviews. Do not under estimate the power of the PR machine in LA and other major is fierce!

    2 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      The restaurant I am referring to in my post above is Fig & Olive on Melrose Place in L.A. We've been several times, but this past Saturday night was, for whatever reason, the worst. It was simply deafening. As I said, my hearing is normal...but I am clearly not a young man. I do like excellent food and service, and Fig and Olive provides both of these. The food is clearly not secondary in this restaurant (and in other similar restaurants in L.A.), but nevertheless they obviously want a "high energy" (loud) environment. The average age of the clientele at this restaurant (when we were there ~ 6-8 pm) appeared to be at least in the 40's and although we only heard a few complaints, the restaurant was packed with happy diners. It's hard to believe that any serious conversation occurred...we were lucky to have the server get (most of) our order correct.

      1. re: josephnl

        Saturday night at a hot place is just asking for trouble IMHO. You might want to find out what their slow night is and go then a little on the early side. If the food is great, it will be even better outside of Saturday night chaos. Or, you can wait a bit and a new hot spot restaurant might lure the loud crowd away and then you can have some conversation. ADDED NOTE I just went to the website and the placer looks like it is all hard surfaces with an open kitchen--noise will tend to be an issue.

    2. We had dinner at Prime Meats in Brooklyn Friday. Everything was excellent but it was noisy. I am sure it's intentional to keep up the energy in the air. I was probably the oldest person in the place. That and the fact that we were trying to "catch up" with some old friends might have something to do with it being mildly annoying.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Motosport

        I wonder if it's not 75% a function of age...Mr. Pine and I find the same noise level problem in lots of other retail establishments, too. We'll sigh, decide we're not the demographic the store is going for, and move on. Same for restaurants. Just can't tolerate being assaulted by noise masquerading as music.

        1. re: pine time

          Short story: Without really thinking we took the 90+ grandparents to Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse knowing they would like the food. It's a loud place with a busy biker bar vibe. As we entered I turned and saw the look of terror on their faces and did a quik U Turn. We took them to "their favorite" Chinese place that reminded me of the place in the Christmas Story movie. "Fa, la la la la!"

          1. re: Motosport

            Hey, we're not that old [yet]! :)
            Well, maybe we're a step or two away from Christmas Story's Chinese restaurant...
            Hope your grandparents enjoyed themselves.

          2. re: pine time

            I always disliked super-loud restaurants, even when I was a young thing. I think it's individual, depends on how sensitive your ears are, how much you like to talk, how much you want to be somewhere hot.

            1. re: visciole

              Same here. Do NO like loud places. Even discounting advanced hearing loss from working around jet engines, it's difficult enough to hear a reasonably-voiced conversation without loud music, loud tables next to us, a completely open dining room with no carpeting or anything else to absorb the sound. I'm definitely NOT the bar least loud bars. And Mariachi bands? Fuhgeddabowdit!

            2. re: pine time

              That could well be. Many "older" folk remember dining, where ladies were ladies, and gentlemen were gentlemen. No on screamed, nor did they fell the need to. Conversation happened around the table, and was not really shared with other diners. That was how it once was.

              Now, it is about shouting, and screaming above a high dB ambient level, so that others will notice those diners, and realize that they are having fun.

              Also, as a human ages, their hearing can decrease, so that with a certain ambient sound level, where they might once have been able to discern human speech, now they are not so able.

              Many younger diners might call my choices "stuffy," and many have, but I did not grow up in the Disney concept that I must be over-stimulated, to know that I am having fun. I am quick enough of mind, to pick up on that, all by myself.


              1. re: Bill Hunt

                thank goodness we can still sit across the table from one another in a loud restaurant and communicate via phone text-message!

                ;-P ;-P ;-P

                eta: oops, you already beat me to the punchline, below!

                1. re: soupkitten

                  Yes, I think that many are using text-messages, as no human could possibly hear above the din.

                  Maybe I should offer to text the ladies, to either side of me, as I can be heard, but they, being ladies, cannot.



                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Why wouldn't the "ladies" be able to? Some of us can speak assertively and/or loudly.

                    1. re: thegforceny

                      When the ambient noise level is at + 125dB, most ladies, who are not on-stage at the Met, have difficulty being heard, above the din.

                      Just my casual observations.


          3. It depends on what you want to do. I've always made it a point to choose quiet restaurants for first dates or for meeting new people since you are trying to get to know each other and verbal communication is therefore important. On the other hand if you are out with friends and just wanna share some apps and have a few drinks w/ good (and loud) music and "vibe" I get that too. However having an actual meal under those circumstances isn't to my liking either. If you have questions about the menu or wine list it's impossible to communicate w/ the waitstaff. So for a serious meal no.

            1. In a word, YOUTH. When I was in my 20s, I loved, LOVED going to a loud, busy, bustling restaurant with rock music blasting. Me and my friends were loud and boisterous, artistic types and the last thing we wanted was a quiet setting, we wanted to drink, eat, be loud and have FUN.

              Now that I'm over 40, this type of place is nothing but irritating to me. Shouting over my food is not enjoyable. My dining out experiences are more select and targeted, so the food is more important to me (and more expensive) than in my 20s, where I was more focused on the party/company and the food was incidental. My dining companions are many fewer than in my youth, and the hour of dining is much earlier as well. Yep, gettin' old.

              1 Reply
              1. re: rockandroller1

                You nailed it!

                In my 20s this sort of place was exciting - added to being in a state of knowing anything could happen.

                My love affair with raucous crowds ended during Guavaween in Ybor when I looked up to see where the water was dripping from an air-conditioner unit and realized it was from a more organic source on the balcony... I guess he thought my group was costumed as fire hydrants.

              2. I'd walk out; or never return if I force myself to stay that one time.

                I agree with others here - it's not about the food or about actually communicating with people. These places I categorize as places to be seen, to be in the company of people who are "cool" and "beautiful" - and both categories seem to me to involve razzle-dazzle, noise, simulacrums of the frenzy where media folks crowd a celebrity screaming their questions at them and rushing them demanding attention (=noise); or "buzz", something that seems to be associated with people being actively active and vibrantly vibrant, that sort of thing; association of "hipness" and "coolness" with the sort of high-energy and loud "modern-day" "popular" music found in social scenes NOT associated with fuddy-duddies or old, has-been and decrepit grandpas and folks who haven't been young-and-with-it-for-wow-a-couple-years-at-least. Oh, also the young folks who engage in such things and go to these loud and hyperactive hell-holes might also be the same folks who have been going to heavy metal or rock concerts with volume levels always above normal pain or eardrum-destroying thresholds for all their formative years so they are both deaf and expectant of a similar scene when they have the money to throw away at the places referred to here in this thread. Ditto all these younger-generation folks (not all, so don't start screaming obscenities my way) who walk around in a daze all day with their music devices plugged into their ears having loud music blasted directly into their ears and oblivious to everything else around them which they can't hear including ambulance sirens right behind them. I include all these folks (so many of them…) who go on these vigorous daily runs, do these strenuous exercise routines, etc etc while plugged into music blaring from these same devices directly into their ears…

                Of course, I say all this as a 100% joke. ;-)

                OTOH, hasn't there been studies that seem to indicate that loud music in restaurants tend to make people eat and drink faster, spend and drink less, and leave faster - maybe the gain in turnover wins over the smaller tabs per person? (with the "buzz" factor drawing them in) ☺
                etc etc...

                5 Replies
                1. re: huiray

                  I disagree that it's not about the food...many of these restaurants serve superb food (Fig and Olive, for example). I do agree that serious conversation with others, has to be low down on the list of priorities for customers who come to these places.

                  1. re: josephnl

                    OK. Still, I think even if superb food is served - as at the place you have now identified - it becomes secondary, or at least not properly enjoyed in a general sense, under the barrage of that loud music and hyperkinetic frenzy. I for one would find it hard to appreciate fine food under such circumstances.

                    escondido touched on a related facet above - I would go along with the notion that perhaps it wouldn't do such places any good to serve *bad* food to their actively active and vibrantly vibrant clientele, who may not want to be described in the gossip pages the next day as having no sophistication at all by dining at a place that had crappy food... :-)

                    1. re: josephnl

                      Hey, you can always text the others at your table...


                        1. re: huiray

                          Yep, seems that everyone's dong it... [Grin]