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Is loud the new normal?

Recent visits to Dandelion and Barbuzzo brought this question to mind again. Is loud the new normal?

A comment about the food and service.

We loved the food and service at Barbuzzo and will just have to endure the crowds and noise.

Dandelion is a lovely venue with excellent service and interesting menu choices. We did find some items underwhelming. A Pimm's Cup that could have been anything other than a Pimm's Cup. Pimm's #1 is an English staple and next to Champagne the most consumed drink at Wimbledon.
The fish and chips were excellent, their version of Bangers and Mash was less that great, the Welsh Rarebit was tasty but unrecognizable and the English Cheeseboard was quite nice but British not English, other selections were not English Classics so we give most of them a "good enough" We were seated on the 3rd Floor in a lovely room which was promised to be a bit more quiet. . It was deafening at best.

The new normal?

To be fair both visits were on a weekend evening which adds to the customer count also to the drink fueled talk. We like the busy, happy vibes the vibrant atmosphere and expect some volume but is loud the new normal?

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  1. "Is loud the new normal?"

    Yes. If you want a quiet restaurant, you need to pony up the bucks for somewhere like Lacroix or one of the chain steakhouses. Some of the BYOs are quiet on off-nights but Starr places like Dandelion are loud by design. If there aren't enough people eating to make a din, they will turn up the music.

    Philly has a lot of great restaurants in the 25-40pp price range but the tradeoff is that they are all loud, either by design or because they pack so many people in.

    3 Replies
    1. re: barryg

      It is so annoying to not be able to have a conversation without shouting. Any new restaurant we go to I always request a "quiet table" when booking.

        1. re: barryg

          Yes, I think if you request it when booking, most places try to do it.

    2. We often go to dinner with friends and want to be able to talk.
      There are some great places we avoid because they are just too noisy for us.
      One of our favorites, Meritage, has moderate noise but we can talk there. We ask for the back room or for a quiet spot.
      The back room at Route 6 has lovely booths away from the music.
      We often go to Passyunk Avenue; you can talk at Paradiso, Le Virtu (ask for a quiet table), and Tre Scalini.
      Japanese restaurants are wonderfully serene. In Philly, we go to Shiroi Hana before concerts, and we are regulars at Fuji in Haddonfield. Mikado, on Route 70, is very good.
      In the northeast, Moonstruck is lovely and quite because it is divided into small rooms.
      Bistrot La Minette is another good choice, with the Sunday prix-fixe a real bargain.
      I'm sure I am forgetting other places with sound that we can tolerate, but we do make that a condition of where we choose to eat.
      We are seniors and I'm sure that makes a difference.
      However, even our grown children don't like too much noise.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sylviag

        I'll second that. We are also seniors, and our children also cannot tolerate a noisy
        environment in a restaurant. That is the killer for us: it has become the #1 priority.
        We sometimes eat very early, to get a jump start on peace and quiet even it doesn't last.

        We like Fuji in Haddonfield, Chun Hing in Bala, but avoid the places that are predictably noisy.

      2. Interesting thread...

        My daughter, the epicurious oenophile, was visiting from SF the week after Labor Day and wanted to go to Alla Spina as Bon Appetit had touted it as one of the best new restaurants of 2012.

        Knowing it had been identified as noisy by Craig LaBan, we asked for a quiet spot and got a booth in the back. While we were there another senior with a young couple were seated near us as they'd had the same request.

        The other senior and I agreed it was nice to hear what you think.

        PS Alla Spina small plates especially lamb speck were excellent. If we'd have room for dessert, Route 6 next door had better desserts.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Seeker19104

          Zahav is the restaurant that we got to most frequently when we have guests. During our most recent visit, the manager came to our table to say hello and said "I know we usually seat you in the other area...I hope this table is quiet enough." I think they keep track of that request for future visits.

        2. Interesting thoughts and suggestions regarding less loud options for good dining and good conversation. . I have taken notes. We are not seniors, well at least I don't think so. Like others here noted we also have heard much younger diners say they are annoyed with the excessive noise and being unable to talk at a conversational volume. As stated by other hounds; avoidance of loud can be a function of time, place and price. Thus we are provided a decibel level rating by most professional reviewers. Out of town guests taken to some "hot" spots for dinner have observed that the noises level is extreme and questioned if it is a Philly thing! I have always responded; no just booze fueled talk I guess.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Bacchus101

            The idea that noise makes dining more of a "scene" is not unique to Philly but I think that trend combined with the BYO culture here--which requires maximizing every square foot to generate revenue because of slim margins--exacerbates it.

            Maybe it is a Philly thing: Laban puts a decibal measurement in every review. I don't think the NYT does this.

            1. re: barryg

              I agree it is not exclusive to Philly. I travel quite a bit and every "scene" restaurant I've been to from Napa to Boston has been pretty um, "energetic" as they like to call it.

              1. re: gbandu

                I suppose the operative word may be "scene". The hosts in my travels probably do not most often take me to those places that would be described as the "scene". But in fact to those which would be more likely to enable talks at a conversational level. Loud can be found anywhere I am sure however it does seem to me to be a prevailing factor in my recent choices in our energetic and fair city. Interesting thought on the BYOB effect.

          2. In regard to "loud" restaurants interfering with conversation it can depend on what kind of conversation you're looking for. So yes if I'm meeting someone and want to get to know them better then a noisier restaurant wouldn't be the best option. However at say French bistros or trattoria with chockablock seating the noise or "buzz" can be disarming. I've often found myself opening up to conversation with guests at the next table; which would be less likely to happen in a more formal setting. 
            So where intimate one-on-one conversation is more difficult in these style restaurants a more communal atmosphere between guests can be encouraged. 

            1. It's a real problem. I wonder who would win the contest in Philadelphia. The noisiest I've endured is Lemon Hill gastropub, which was noisier than a tarmac. Sampan and Khyber Pass have been big offenders, too.

              I was just in New York, at a fairly trendy, informal, and contemporary mid-priced restaurant in the Village. What was remarkable was how quiet it was. There were few reflective surfaces, and acoustical tiles lined the ceiling. And you could hear your companion's conversation without shouting.

              9 Replies
              1. re: lowereastrittenhouse

                If it were a "real problem" on the restaurant scene would it be as common and calculated? It's a preference no?

                1. re: lowereastrittenhouse

                  Well before I make myself feel really old and start blaming this seemingly agreed upon national phenomenon on a generational dining style differences or culture shift, lets start with a couple uh, scientific issues, that are at least part of the issue-

                  a) A definite move over the last many years in what I'll call "good food dining" rather than "fine dining" to physically smaller restaurants. That is in my opinion on account of a lot more good food out there thanks to record numbers of culinary school graduates, spread out into a lot more, much smaller venues. And secondly on account of economic issues - whether large, formal traditional fine-dining restaurants can survive outside of big tourist areas may be a real question of economic viability these days.

                  b) Bigger dining parties - a lot more special occasion group dining, and a lot less one-on-one dining (ok, this is speculation based on non-scientific observation) and perhaps a generational issue and cultural shift due to job or work schedules of the new family economic structure.

                  I do want to add here that I think the BYOB and generally implied "everybody is drinking so much they are getting louder" theory is not necessarily the case although may be accurate is some particular areas with the tie in to economics as barryg points out above, but is open to debate....probably another generational issue.

                  1. re: lowereastrittenhouse

                    I found it funny that you said the Khyber is noisy... Given how much time I spent in the early aughts losing my hearing seeing shows there, it seems, by comparison to be totally reasonable in there now. Especially for a bar that serves food.

                    1. re: urbanfabric

                      Chinon00, you're right that it's probably driven by some consumer preference, but to me that preference and what it produces is a problem. Obviously, it's not a problem in the sense that these restaurants are doing business just fine, but on that level one couldn't criticize anything about them.

                      Urbanfabric - Don't get me wrong: I love the Khyber, their jukebox included, and some times I've been in there that it's been totally fine - I certainly don't expect serenity there. But last time I was there the noise level was deafening.

                      Anyway, I think my main point is that the conversation here often proceeds as if there's an opposition between formal restaurants and informal dining that younger chefs and clientele prefer. But there's no reason that smaller places, larger parties, younger diners, alcohol, etc should necessarily mean a conversation-level arms race.

                      1. re: lowereastrittenhouse

                        It would be reasonable to be critical of say cold food or slow service regardless of how well business is going. But no one has a preference for those things. The noise level on the other hand is by design and it either is your thing or it isn't.

                    2. re: lowereastrittenhouse

                      Yes "lower" I have noticed the same thing at informal mid-priced restaurants in not only NYC, but SFO and other major cities in Western Europe where my travels take me. Again not to say one can not find loud anywhere or that the Philly loudness is or is not by design or that one can not make a choice to avoid it, but it is definitely an omnipresent issue here.

                      1. re: Bacchus101

                        Noise is where it's at. It becomes more than a dining place -- it becomes a happening.
                        That said, I detest competing with loud piped-in music while noisy patrons contribute to the din.
                        So what are we forced to do on a Saturday night -- the biggest offender? We make our reservations for 5:30-6, and by 7 or so, when the throngs start gathering, we are ready to pay the check and leave.
                        Being that it is still early, our friends sometimes opt to skip fattening desserts and head instead for the nearest Dairy Queen or Ice Cream Parlor.
                        We save our "bit later" reservations for more upscale tablecloth restaurants where we can hear ourselves talk with no problem.

                      2. re: lowereastrittenhouse

                        I'd say Parc on a busy night wins the crown for noisiest. I've literally had to scream across a table to talk to someone there.

                      3. For an in-depth commentary on the deleterious effects of noise on health, work efficiency, social interactions and need to engineer around these, check out this very timely TED talk: http://www.wimp.com/architectsears/

                        Restaurateurs, take note. I wonder what kind of relationship exists between decibel levels and waitstaff errors, turnover, heated interactions with patrons, billing mistakes and non-returning patrons because of noise that could be more effectively controlled for a minimal investment. I think there is a doctoral dissertation in here somewhere.
                        CP

                        10 Replies
                          1. re: Seeker19104

                            If "Loud is the New Normal", we're going to be eating at home far more often.
                            For us, Loud is THE disqualifier for restaurants. There's an opportunity for
                            smaller intimate places that value quiet to serve many customers' needs, and
                            arrange acoustics to provide it.

                          2. re: Chefpaulo

                            Yes, thanks for the link, Chef. Ted frames the issue intelligently and succinctly. Not accepting that loud is the new normal but rather a newly defined form of pollution subjecting those who would submit and accept it to a multitude of potential problems in the name of trendy. Ok now about that bridge I have for sale in Brooklyn!

                            1. re: Bacchus101

                              Who's asking you to "accept" it? Aren't we chowhounds discriminating?

                              1. re: Bacchus101

                                Bacchus,
                                I've had the highest respect for your commentary over the years, but this is the most perplexing non sequitur you've ever posted. Please explain, and maybe reconsider your insinuation that Chinon00 and I are fodder for the implied P.T. Barnum maxim.
                                CP

                                1. re: Chefpaulo

                                  Well thank you. Agreed, upon re-reading, which I usually do; the statement was a bit of a non sequitur without properly identifying to whom I was offering the opportunity to purchase my bridge. I am not sure it would be any less annoying to those more specifically identified. I thought Ted was quite good in defining noise as a form of pollution rather than accepting it as just normal. My non sequitur was to say IMHO if one is willing to accept the potential problems of noise pollution and/or as in the case of the restaurant owner project it upon us because it is trendy: I think I have identified a potential buyer for my structure. Of course good points have been made here on the other side of the noise issue. Like , just don't go there, other factors are often more important to others and examples of very successful loud establishments. Got to be careful with P.T Barnum he can lure one in! Mea culpa!

                                  1. re: Bacchus101

                                    "My non sequitur was to say IMHO if one is willing to accept the potential problems of noise pollution and/or as in the case of the restaurant owner project it upon us because it is trendy: I think I have identified a potential buyer for my structure."

                                    I'm not really sure what your point is however in the case of noise causing potential problems if it is effecting the bottom line (orders confused, uncomfortable customers, poor service) that will take care of itself (i.e. it'll be corrected or they will close). The only "victims" in this scenario I see are the wait staff who are exposed to higher than normal decibels levels. Telling them to "work some place else" is unfair.

                                    1. re: Bacchus101

                                      Fyi, Ted was not the speaker in the talk chefpaulo linked to, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is the organization that hosts this and thousands of other speeches, conferences, etc: http://www.ted.com/ .

                                2. re: Chefpaulo

                                  An interesting theory but in my experience, loud and busy restaurants usually have good service, while uncrowded restaurants often have indifferent service and slow kitchens. I'm not in the industry but I think it has something to do with the staff and kitchen getting into a rhythm, which is difficult if there aren't many diners. Or maybe the staff feeding off the energy of the room.

                                  For example, the Starr restaurants are the worst noise offenders (dinner as theater) but have consistently good service and prompt kitchens. Obviously there are exceptions and my experiences are anecdotal, but I think quality of management plays a much bigger role in service quality than the existence of noise pollution.