Shrink Rap: High Decibel Dining
Originally published in Coast Magazine, November 2007
It's time for a pop quiz for all who dine out at least occasionally — which is almost everyone along the coast, where there's so much disposable income available to indulge in culinary delight.
Choose the best answer to the following questions about your typical dining experience. The winner receives a gift certificate for two at the restaurant of his choice where the sound level measures at least 85 decibels.
Perhaps it comes with middle age and a more sensitized nervous system but many of the places I used to like are now intolerably noisy. I'm more irritated by decibel enhancers such as loud talkers, unruly children, incessant blabbing on cell phones while eating, amped up and chaotic background music, and distracting flat-panel televisions perched high up in corners with the volume too loud.
It's pretty obvious that the psychological purpose of inundating customers with fast music is to get us to eat faster and then out the door. But at what price to our digestive system when we're subjected to these noisy and chaotic conditions? Ever notice how many people are nervously shaking or tapping their hands, legs, or feet in these scenes? Restaurants should be places to relax and enjoy a meal - not to get artificially jacked up. An afternoon or evening out should not mean we're paying for high decibel dining.
While management gives a lot of attention to menu, food preparation and presentation, décor, staff training, and marketing - it seems none is given to background music and other sources of noise and distraction.
At a recent dinner at Kulettos in San Francisco, I noticed there was no music playing. It was such an unusual occurrence that I asked the manager about it. He said the conversation level was high enough at dinner, that they'd have to turn the music up too loud for it to be heard. How refreshing it was to hear a manager actually be aware of how noise affects his patrons. I welcomed the thought that more restaurateurs might think like this back home.