“Hello darkness, my old friend,” sang Simon and Garfinkel and I think of that often when dining.
I thought of it as well as I read Francois Simon’s Hache Menu on Wednesday October 17th of Au Moulin a Vent when a table of “over dressed” English folks raised their voices after two glasses of bubbly and Simon’s decibelometre shot up like an arrow – 86…88…90 dB.
Said Simon once devoted an entire article to noise levels in Paris restos and it reminds me of other occasions.
Such as the time four of us took to shouting across a 2-foot wide table to be heard; such as at Saturne’s room under the glass ceiling where rather than compete with the din of ever-rising voices from other diners, we just stopped talking; such as the time when my friend Randy insists that everything in a restaurant counts towards the “total experience” – the welcome, décor, settings, service and efficiency – not just the food as I fool myself into believing.
And when it comes to noise he’s got a point. Katherine Bouton in a recent OpEd piece in the NYTimes titled “Sound Bites (More Noise More Hearing Loss)” said “Even for those with normal hearing, dining and talking are becoming mutually exclusive. Noise is the second most common complaint about restaurants, according to Zagat,….”
Now whatever you think of the scientific validity of the Zagat’s surveys, they may be onto something.
So why do restaurants that are supposed to be in the “hospitality sector,” show this ugly side?
Well, one time a bunch of French physicians and I wound up at the now defunct Totem in the Trocadero and we were supposed to be having a business meeting but could not hear each other because of the loud music echoing off the stone walls.
“Why did you choose this place,” I asked the lead guy. Oh, my secretary said it was very branché and big with the young folks.
Another time we were in a place again with a noise level, just from folks talking, that was earsplitting and I asked the owner why he didn’t dampen the sound – “Oh then we’d lose the charm of the metal ceiling and cool walls.”
And finally we were in a place where the tables were jammed so closely together and the folks around us getting so tipsy and giggly and shouting to be heard that I swear the owner just wanted us to leave fast and turn the tables.
Unfair, grouchy, over-sensitive?
Maybe. But we no longer drop our sous at them anymore, despite the quality of the food. Too bad.