Service of Ear-Splitting Food: Toothsome restaurant fare with a large side of noise, as at Carbone, is here to stay

July 18th, 2013

Categories: Leisure, New York City, Noise, Restaurant

Noise

Adam Platt predicts restaurants will continue to be noisy because “As one of my cranky food-writer colleagues put it the other day, ‘a quiet restaurant, these days, is a doomed restaurant.’”

Platt, who wrote “I Can’t Hear Myself Eat: Why restaurants are louder than ever,” observed that noise is “…about the single most disruptive restaurant trend over the past decade or so.” His article appeared in both New York Magazine and on his grubstreet.com blog.

NYC SubwayHe reported that 90 decibels is standard with some restaurants hitting 96. Is that so bad? It is according to Decibel Exposure Time Guidelines on dangerousdecibels.org. A chart listing decibels and “permissible exposure time” suggests two hours for 91 decibels, an hour for 94 and half an hour at 97. Answers.com measures a subway screech at 95 decibels at 200 feet. Platt acknowledged that some restaurants are taking steps to tone things down as the noise “threatens to damage the hearing of their waiters and cooks.” 

Carbone restaurant, Photo: nyfoodeedotcom

Carbone restaurant, Photo: nyfoodeedotcom

The restaurant reviewer, with some 10 years under his belt, described Carbone as “an overpriced noise pit, especially if you find yourself marooned in the tiny, brick-walled back room.” He identified the place as New York’s most popular restaurant.

The comments on Platt’s blog offer additional conjectures for the popularity of excessive noise. Some readers thought it encourages lucrative turnover as guests don’t linger. Others suggested the racket weeded out unwanted older diners. People can’t tolerate silence, added a few, they are so used to constant mobile phone chatter and/or hearing music on iPods every waking hour.

Readers chimed in from Minot N.D. and Boston identifying similar clamor where they eat. A few pointed out how liquor—the most profitable part of a dining check—helps people tolerate noise at the same time feel more inclined to yell and scream to be heard over it, adding to the din. One held responsibility landed at the foot of fashionable architectural elements such as hardwoods, glass, brick and exposed concrete ceilings. Platt held that Mario Batali launched the trend to blast music “over the heads of the startled patrons in the staid dining room at Babbo.”

Noisy restaurantOne blog comment: “Went to Alder this weekend–by far the loudest dining experience i’ve [sic] ever had. We kept conversation to a minimum because it was so hard to hear each other.” This writer didn’t say whether this was a good or a bad thing.

Platt’s mother described the noise at the most recent dinner they shared as “loud as a freight train.” He admitted “Most of the restaurants I write about these days aren’t restaurants at all in the classic sense that she would recognize. They’re noisy bars, built for sound, that happen to serve good, sometimes excellent food.”

Sushi barThere are exceptions: He identified Atera, an “effete little tasting atelier” (where a Bloomberg reviewer paid $700 for dinner for two last September). Other “relative temples of quiet,” wrote Platt, are two “grand gourmet establishments” Eleven Madison Park and Per Se. He also mentioned sushi bars.

Do you enjoy conversation with meals or are you comfortable to be part of the scene? Can you name good restaurants that celebrate food, conversation and relaxation? In spite of predictions by Platt and others, do you forecast that the fashion for putting on the feedbag with generous dollops of noise will pass?

Putting on feedbag

13 Responses to “Service of Ear-Splitting Food: Toothsome restaurant fare with a large side of noise, as at Carbone, is here to stay”

  1. Monique Sanchez Said:

    I don’t go to places like that. If I can’t talk to you there is no point. That’s why I don’t patronize clubs.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Monique,

    I’m with you about noisy restaurants. Bruising my eardrums isn’t fun or calming and I hope to relax when I eat.

    I wonder if people aren’t used to conversation with meals because they never sat down to dinner with family so they don’t miss it when they eat out.

    FYI: Monique is a trend-setting NYC-based actor who is out on the town nightly and is well under 30.

  3. R C-F Said:

    I, personally, hate the noise and avoid such places. I assume people choose to go to such restaurants so that: a) they need not make conversation b) they can sit very close to the person they are with and talk cheek to cheek or c) they can listen to, and in fact like the “music” around them.

    These summer days when walking down the street past places with open doors and sound busting forth, the force of the sound seems to blow me across the street! Amazing. Thank you for the splendid and timely question.

  4. Hank Goldman Said:

    I agree with Monique and Jeanne Marie—Its like anything else: A little bit is very cool, and TOO MUCH is just, well, Too F—–g Much!

    The reason you go out is 1/2 “see and be seen”, and the other 1/2 is to communicate.

    So… its great to have SOME background music and Chatter— But, Not Too Much!

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    R C-F,

    Your comment made me think of music as anesthesia starting with the booming noise coming from SUVs and other imposing vehicles. It envelops the driver and moves him/her to another place.

    I worry about these drivers who are unable to hear over the ruckus someone crying for help, honking at them or yelling at them to stop. Back to noisy restaurants–the loud music helps people turn off everyday stresses.

    It also seems to distract from the food which is a shame for the chefs who have worked hard to produce it. Yet theirs is a business and there’s no point in going to all that trouble for nobody to taste the food because the surroundings are serene.

    I hadn’t thought of the music as helping people sit nice and close so as to be heard. That’s a charming idea.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    Agreed–Balance–that’s what you hope for in a dish and in a meal as well as in the environment in which you eat.

    You can’t argue with success–are those who line up to go deaf while eating so taken with being cool that they willingly give up comfort or are they already deaf and don’t notice the sound?

  7. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    It’s hard to find a decent restaurant in New York that isn’t noisy. I guess I’ve accustomed myself to chatter and clatter; what I can’t abide is music. Why any restaurateur thinks he/she has to add music to the fray is beyond me. And usually it’s music with a beat. By the end of a meal in such a place—and I’ve endured them often—my throat is usually raw.

    The converse of this was a French restaurant my wife and I went to in Charleston, SC, years ago. It was rather stiff and formal and also deathly quiet. People spoke in whispers. It was not pleasant. So I guess that the best we can hope for is some kind of happy medium: a cheerful ambience with crowd noise that doesn’t dull the impact of the meal.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Merv,

    The Charleston restaurant sounded like eating at a place that was equal parts funeral parlor and jail. A shame they didn’t understand what I experienced in my first three star restaurant in France.

    I was a bit nervous, having never before visited such gastronomic royalty. First thing that happened–a bartender asked us if we would like a drink before dinner and if we did, where: In the bar or at our table. We asked him what most people do and he smiled and said “anywhere that would be most comfortable for you.” From that moment we relaxed and since have enjoyed many such extraordinary meals, some more formal than this yet never stuffy or stiff or deadly quiet.

    I, too, have left super noisy places with the beginnings of laryngitis. Not a great side effect.

  9. Anonymous Said:

    Donna Boyle Schwartz wrote on Facebook:

    “We won’t go back to a noisy restaurant, no matter how popular it is or how tasty the meal. Food, I can cook at home! We go out to a restaurant to have a dining “experience,” and that encompasses the ambiance and aesthetics of the environment.”

    My response:
    Fashion isn’t always kind to men and women who follow it without looking in the mirror or to those who line up to have one of their senses abused while satisfying others. I wonder how talented chefs working under these conditions feel.

  10. JPM Said:

    The first three star restaurant I ever ate in was L’Oustau de Baumanière near Les Baux in Provence in 1955. It was memorable for three things: Danny Kaye was at the next table; delicious food in a beautiful place, and no music, although I think a couple of doves may have been cooing somewhere out in the dark. (P.S. L’Oustau lost its third star about two decades ago after the death of its founder.)

    The last three star restaurant I ever ate in was Martin Berasategui’s near San Sebastian over 50 years later in 2008.It was memorable for three things: Although it is a tough call, I believe that his was the greatest meal I ever ate in my life; it was snowing in November, and no music.

    The gurgling, subdued sound of serious people conversing while happily eating great food is all the noise I ever want to hear. I like to drink, but if you want to drink go to a bar. I like some music, and light stuff is fine for a café or supper club, and the heavy, for a concert hall, but remember that noise spoils food as surely as heat.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JPM,

    Catchy last line–“noise spoils food as surely as heat!”

    I don’t mind unintrusive music in any restaurant…an acordian playing vintage French love songs in a bistro helps set the stage. But as Hank Goldman noted in his comment, overdoing the blaring in any place isn’t cool. It becomes an agressive, uninvited guest who takes over the conversation.

    I realize it was almost 60 years ago but do you remember if Danny Kaye was asked to perform or was he left alone to enjoy his meal?

  12. JPM Said:

    No. Kaye was not asked to perform, and everyone in the place acted as if they didn’t know who he was. He looked like he was enjoying himself, didn’t get drunk or embarrass anybody. I didn’t ask for his autograph.

    He liked to cook and was honored by “Les Meilleurs Ouvriers de France” for his cooking, only non-professional up to that time to have received such an award.

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JPM,

    Apart from the calm, preserving the privacy of a celebrity was cherished and seemed to be better controlled then.

    Boy do you have a memory! I didn’t know the actor was also a chef. I love hearing about people who excel at unrelated talents.

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