Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Can You Please Speak Up? I Can't Hear You Over the Restaurant Music

I don't think these three Dijon fellows need this week's Top 20 to make
their dining experience more enjoyable

Brad and I walked into a restaurant Sunday night for a little dinner and we were assaulted.  Yes, assaulted.  I don’t know if it was Queen, or if it was Toby Keith, or if it was a mash-up of Toby Keith doing Queen with a little Chuck Berry thrown in for good measure.  All we knew was it was TOO DAMN LOUD.  We asked to be seated as far away from the music as possible so we could, oh I don’t know, talk.  So we were led to the darkest corner of the restaurant where we were in sore need of a flashlight phone app to read the menu.

This wasn’t a bar.  There were tablecloths, low lights, inventive fish items on the menu, and art on the walls.  But the music was cranked up like it was Disco Night and Glow Bowling at the local lanes.

Who was the first American restaurateur to decide that simple conversation with friends and family was not enough stimulation during a meal?

Research out there has focused on the connection between food and sound.  Scientist Charles Spence and chef Heston Blumenthal performed an experiment in which identical ice cream servings evoked one reaction with the sound of bacon sizzling and another with farmyard sounds.  Blumenthal jumped on the sound/food bandwagon so completely that he created a seafood entrée that arrived at your table complete with a mini-iPod tucked into a decorative seashell on the plate.

Dinner with surround sound?  You’re kidding me, right?

Of course, when you’re plugged into a personal music player listening to sounds of the sea while eating, it makes it a bit hard to converse with anyone else at the table.

I don't think there is a single soundtrack that could have made
this strawberry pie any more delicious than it already was

I understand the concept of mood music.  We enjoy a little classical music in the background when we sit down at home.  But why do American restaurants have to make it SO DAMN LOUD? (Excuse me for shouting again).  This isn’t about eating while listening to the band at a jazz club.  It’s not about live mariachi music on Fridays at my local Mexican joint.  It’s not about some quiet classical playing under the conversation at a white tablecloth restaurant.

It’s about Music.  Playing.  Too.  Loud.  Unnecessarily.  Everywhere.

When I return from France each year, the longing that never leaves me is to have the French dining experience when I go out.  The average restaurant is there to provide delicious food.  You bring the entertainment with your conversation.  No music bombards you.  No pesky waiter tries to be your BFF by saying “Bonjour, my name is Phillipe.”  He doesn’t return every five minutes to see if you need anything (we’ll signal you if we need you).  And he doesn’t try to hustle you out in under an hour to turn the table over four times before his shift ends to earn more tips.  (But I digress.  Those are all peeves to address in another post.)

French restaurants are traditionally small because they’re built into the already existing medieval spaces.  Perhaps ten to twenty tables, tops.  These tables are also less than a foot apart from each other.  But still, they are blissfully quiet.  You converse in low tones with the others at your table.  The sounds of clinking silverware, occasional laughter, and the pop of a wine cork are all that you hear, even if a family with three children sits two tables away.

An unexpected chance to share dinner in Beaune, France with my favorite blogger, Kristin Espinasse (left).
Great wine and chocolate for dessert.  No music could make it better.  Read her blog here

More than what I eat, the people with whom I share a meal and the stories we tell stick with me.  I don’t need a multi-sensory experience to enjoy my dinner.  It’s enough just to have time to make the human connection – or even to be alone with my own thoughts.  Yes, I know that’s a radical idea in this über-connected age, but sometimes my own company is enough.

So if you want to see me walking through your restaurant doors more often, Mr. Restaurant Owner, try offering a little taste, an amuse-bouche, of “The Sounds of Silence.”

Music or no music?  What's your take on the situation?  Have a quiet conversation about it here.

After dinner on the streets of Beaune with vinter Jean-Marc Espinasse, my Brad, and Kristin Espinasse.
That's what a dining experience is about.
See what else I've said about the sounds of France here.  And don't forget to check out Kristin's fantastic stories and beautiful pictures of France here


Annette Gendler said...

Julie - I'm with you on this! I tend to pick quiet restaurants so that I may have a conversation with my dinner partner, and I avoid bars for the reason that I don't like having to yell at people. However, I've waited one too many times for a French waiter to appear so I prefer the overfriendly American ones.

Laura@Catharsis said...

First, I have to say how absolutely gorgeous that first picture is. It's art I'd like to hang in my house for sure! As for the music? I'm a music person, so I don't mind it. But I will say this: there are some places where it is, as you say, TOO DAMN LOUD. For the most part, though, I dig it. I do want you to know I was laughing so hard throughout this post, I almost couldn't stop. I'm not sure if you intended it to be humorous, but it was. Very. I can definitely sense your frustration, and it's not that I was laughing at you or that. I was merely laughing at how you recounted it. And I loved every minute of it.

Bella said...

Julie, for me, the dining experience HAS to include conversation. If that's missing, the night is ruined. At home, we have dinner conversation while we eat, but mostly, after dinner. My Spanish mother taught us the importance of "la sobremesa," conversing after a meal, at a very young age. When we eat out, it's even more special. While I may enjoy a bit of elevator music as ambiance, I will not tolerate loud music. I'm afraid I would have walked out. End of story. :)

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

Right on, sister! (sorry I did not mean to shout) I agree totally and love the quiet dining experience in Paris and beyond.

I have followed Kristin for years and have her books, voted on the label for the first year's wine and would love to meet her. Loved seeing your photos of the four of you.


Julie Farrar said...

Annette, French waiters aren't a problem if you can get into the zen of dining there. In other words, if you go out to dinner, don't have anyplace else you have to be and don't go tired. Some day I'll tell the story of the two hours it took us to be served our desert crepes. Yes, we waited without complaint. We'll always remember that night.

Yes, Genie, you must meet her. She was so gracious to contact me when she was passing through Burgundy for one night only.

Laura and Bella, thanks for voting in my favor. Music - ok. Loud music -- I curse you!

Anonymous said...

How lucky you are to live your amazing, globe-trotting life! I always love your photos. As for the loud music, I agree. There have been a few times when I have found that so annoying, the music so loud you can't hear yourself think, let alone speak to your dinner companions. Great post!

Lee I said...

I wouldn't mind dining with Jean-Marc and your Brad to look at, with or without conversation.

Stobby said...

I think music in a restaurant can be used for good especially if it's a low hum that drowns out the conversation of the people sitting next to you. This can be especially problematic in quaint european cafes.

I also think hearing the soundtrack to Amelie while sitting in a French Bistro sipping French Onion Soup can make the moment just a little more magical.

But if given the choice, I'd probably opt for no music. I've eaten i Japanese restaurants where the twanging over the speakers was so loud I couldn't eat because of a smouldering headache.

But that just me ;)

nancy said...

I couldn't agree more, Laura! As a culture, we have forgotten how important silence and quiet conversation is for the soul. I think music helps set the ambiance of the dining experience. When it's too loud, as I find it often is, it completely destroys the mood.

nancy said...

I forgot to mention your gorgeous photos, Julie! The strawberry pie looks beyond yummy ~

Michael Ann said...

Oh boy, I totally agree. I adore music, but I don't enjoy having to shout at someone when we are trying to talk. Also, I have hearing issues and loud noises of any kind, make it hard for me to hear. I am forced to sort of read lips while paying VERY close attention. Ironically, listening to loud music in my youth is one reason I have hearing issues!!!

Beverly Diehl said...

I'm with you, I hate restaurants with such obnoxiously loud music you have to shout at your dinner companions. Or where the actual acoustics of the restaurant are so bad that even with no music, it's like you're trying to converse at a football game.

*Occasionally*, music (not too loud) enhances the experience. There are some 50's style diners I stop in at occasionally, and they have the jukebox-at-your-table dealie, which can be fun. There's a Spanish (as opposed to Mexican) restaurant that plays soft flamenco music in the background.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Julie, I'm so with you! I hate loud music in restaurants. And I don't get it. Why play this music while you're supposed to converse? Second to this are televisions in restaurants. I mean, why? Isn't the point to get out of your house and do something out of the ordinary?

Muriel said...

I understand what you mean, but the service in France can be incredibly slow too. Maybe you are becoming French? I am starting to wonder...

Julie Farrar said...

Ha, ha, Muriel. I'll never be completely French. I've simply learned that there are some things we can't change when over there so why try to fight it. However, I will forever chastise the French for their miserable excuses for public toilets.

Sandwiched Writer said...

Agreed. But this is coming from someone who has to turn the car radio completely off in order to stay focused on a conversation w/ the husband. (Oh, that pie looks fabulous!)

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