Did you go out for Valentine’s dinner? Were you unable to hear the sweet nothings your sweetie was whispering to you? Come to think of it, were you unable to have a conversation at a normal volume?
Well, these days, you’re not alone, and you’re definitely not imagining things. In recent years, there has been a significant rise in volume in restaurants. This rise has been noted by many different people who dine – from food critics to online restaurant reviewers to business journals. If we look to the design and ambience of modern, trendy restaurants, we can understand why they are so loud these days.
If you think about the popular new restaurants in your city, they usually occupy spaces that were formerly warehouses or lofts. These spaces were not designed acoustically for a restaurant setting. Restaurant architect Dirk Denison describes the restaurant L20 in Chicago as “a big square box – the worst scenario.” Denison was hired to design L20, and found the space to be a challenge. “Parallel walls cause noise to ping back and forth,” he says in The Wall Street Journal.
There are a lot of noises in a restaurant, from conversation to the scrape of chair legs across the floor, to the clacking of forks and spoons against bowls – these are not things that most people would consider. And with contemporary restaurant design favoring a minimalist, industrial-chic aesthetic, there is no longer the acoustic padding of carpet and tablecloths in older restaurants.
New restaurant owners should consider hiring an acoustics expert to work with the interior designer and architect. Acoustics consultants are able to assess the noise in a space and create décor that essentially buffers sharp noises in these open spaces, while still maintaining the desired aesthetic.
In the past decade, open kitchens have increased in popularity. This trend may be due to the popularity of chefs in the media. Some restaurants even offer a front-row seat to watch chefs prepare the meal! If spaces are not acoustically designed to absorb sound – and restaurant patrons are sitting right at the kitchen, imagine the spike in volume. Between the chef and cooks shouting, to the clatter of pots and pans, the restaurant gets much louder.
Quiet restaurants are a thing of the past. New York Magazine reports, “Most restaurant scholars will tell you that the Great Noise Boom began in the late nineties, when Mario Batali had the genius idea of taking the kind of music he and his kitchen-slave compatriots listened to while rolling their pastas and stirring their offal-rich ragus and blasting it over the heads of the startled patrons in the staid dining room at Babbo…Sound systems were cranked up and suddenly noise became the hallmark of a successful New York restaurant.”
This trend has spread from New York across the country. Loud restaurants are vibrant restaurants, popular with many people. These days, a quiet restaurant almost feels like a place no one wants to go to socialize.
If your favorite restaurants are exceedingly loud, consider mentioning this to them as a complaint of your dining experience. Acoustics experts could be hired to consult in the space.
Restaurant trends come and go, just as with everything else. If you are a food lover and you love to dine in the latest restaurants – and you experience difficulty with hearing, there is a solution. If you haven’t yet, consider taking a hearing test. Additionally, there are many different devices to assist people with hearing in particularly challenging situations. Most smartphones are equipped with microphones that, with a downloadable app, can amplify the sounds of the people closest to you.