Even the most patient of diners cannot be immune to the irritants of a restaurant. Because they are, of course, multitudinous. While the best restaurateurs toil to alleviate the burdens on a customer sometimes, to this critic at least, it seems deliberate.
There are the constant interruptions as staff check on your wellbeing (‘Yes, I’m still eating, still alive…’), the paired down décor of the modern restaurant (brushed concrete, dusty bare brick walls), there are the places where I’m not considered grown-up or sensible enough to be able to pour my own wine, and there are those tables, specially placed, beside the lavatories.
But between courses of overcooked duck, being blinded by over-bright lights and waiters attempting origami with your napkin while you nip to the loo, there is a phenomenon that is these days getting out of control: the noise.
If you’ve felt the din of a restaurant of the modern era is getting worse, or just that you’re getting older, deafer and more intolerant, take comfort: you’re not alone and it’s not you.
A survey out this week by hospitality app SoundPrint has revealed that Britain’s restaurants have indeed been getting louder and that London’s eateries are in fact the loudest in Europe. And we’re not just talking rather loud or frightfully loud, we’re talking the same decibels as a lawnmower.
A place for conversation
Research showed that during peak times 50 per cent of London restaurants exceeded 80 dBA, which is several decibels higher than the level hearing experts consider to be dangerous.
The app was created by a single New Yorker, Gregory Scott, who suffers from hearing loss and so created an app that enables users to search for restaurants and bars based on their sound levels.
‘Forty or 50 years ago restaurants were a place for conversation, they had soft furnishings, carpets, drapes which meant that even in a packed room you could talk with ease over a meal,’ said Scott, as he reached for his ear trumpet.
Indeed, if you build a restaurant in concrete and your brutalist mindset doesn’t offer creature comforts like curtains, or even paintings, the only place for a din to get absorbed is your ear.
So now, if you feel the need to ask that awkward, killjoy question: ‘Can you please do something about the noise?’, you might find you’ve now got a health and safety legal blanket on your side.
Of course, if the place is just noisy – a cacophony of shouting and loud laughter – and yes, I agree, nothing is ever that funny – there might be little you can do about it but leave. But many restaurateurs have a habit of turning the music up in a vain attempt to create an atmosphere. And worse, of course, it’s often their music, their music taste, their statement of fashion that sees them blaring out death metal.
Perhaps it’s time to discombobulate the too-cool-for school restaurateur/DJ as they play their Kemistry and Storm drum and bass and, having beckoned over a waitress, ask them if they’ve got any Barbara Streisand. I mean if one can send back broccoli because it’s overcooked, why can’t one ask to change the record?
If you struggle with noise, the SoundPrint app comes to your rescue as it names and shames London’s noisiest restaurants. The offenders include, at 94 dBA, Shak-Fuyu in Soho, neighbouring restaurant Duck and Rice, recorded at 93 dBA and London Bridge’s Lobos Meat and Tapas, which showed 92 dBA.
But where SoundPrint fails to offer solace is at the other end of the sound spectrum. It’s the issue which, to me, is actually more pressing, if not depressing.
It’s those restaurants where there is no noise, where couples sit struggling to know where to look, picking soulfully at their food and having come to that most grim stage of their relationship where they have run out of conversation. It seems to be that such people congregate in the same establishments, hoping, perhaps, that they might strike up conversation with an equally gloomy neighbour.
For there’s just one thing worse than not being able to hear yourself speak and that’s being aware that every word you’re saying can be heard by everyone else. So in those places I say… pump up the volume!