Shouting in public isn’t very polite, is it? There are some places where it’s not only OK to shout, it’s expected: at sporting events (except for tennis matches); in the street, if you see a house on fire or a crime in progress; in restaurants and bars where it’s so loud that you can’t make yourself heard by any other means.
Some places are noisy because they have bad acoustics. I wish they’d do something about it – carpets and tablecloths work wonders – but if the restaurant is a good one, I’ll let it go and just talk more loudly. I call this necessary noise.
It’s Unnecessary noise that turns my blood into molten lava. Take, for instance, a well-known steakhouse in London. It’s big and noisy anyway, but the owners insist on pumping up the volume further with thumping, bassy music. The reason? “We love music.”
Well, I love music too. Sometimes I listen to it loud. But I don’t love it when it turns a merely noisy atmosphere into a deafening one. At many restaurants, and even more bars, shouting “Sorry?” ten times a minute seems to be an integral part of the eating/drinking experience – something I find unpalatable.
I can accept loud music if dancing is the main activity at the watering hole in question. Conversation, however, requires the ability to hear and to make yourself heard. If both elements are a trial, you’re not going to have much fun conversing. You may not have fun, full stop. Loud noise causes stress. That’s why a barman in one London bar, when asked why they played the music so loud, replied: “Money. If people can’t talk, they drink more.”
How can you fight back? The first course of action is to politely ask if the music can be turned down. I’ve never had the request refused, though I know others who have. The volume dial has a mysterious way of turning clockwise after a while, but then you can ask again.
Another approach is one used by my food writer colleague Debora Robertson. “I make my order in a normal speaking voice,” she says. “If the waiter has to bend down to within an inch of my mouth to hear it, then the music’s clearly too bloody loud.”
A third option is to join Pipedown, an organisation that campaigns against music in public places. Your subscription entitles you to any number of cards (within reason) with a printed message explaining that because of the volume of the music you will not give the place your custom.
The weird thing about loud music is that I’ve never met anyone who likes it. So many people say they would pay more money for a quieter meal, and they’re not all old farts like me. Some will happily have their eardrums trashed at a rave but go to restaurants so they can converse, painlessly. Is that too much to ask? It won’t be if we complain. Especially if we do so loudly.
By Richard Ehrlich
Richard Ehrlich is chair of the Guild of Food Writers and author of 80 Recipes for your Pressure Cooker (Kyle Cathie).