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Post Magazine: No Appetite for Noise

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Noise is becoming an increasingly common complaint from diners, so we set out on a recent Friday to document the difference a few decibels makes. Can you hear the difference between these three Washington restaurants? Video by Julia Beizer/washingtonpost.comEditor: Jonathan Forsythe/washingtonpost.com

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Tom Sietsema, Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 7, 2008; 12:00 PM

The No. 1 complaint of restaurant-goers in the Washington area isn't the service, or even the dinner. It's the din. Post food critic Tom Sietsema has a new plan for dealing with noisy dining rooms around town.

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Tom Sietsema was online Monday, April 7, at Noon ET to discuss his Washington Post Magazine cover story, 'No Appetite for Noise.'

A transcript follows.

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McLean, Va.: The biggest noise polluters in NOVA restaurants are ill-behaved young children and toddlers, who misbehave in a very obnoxious way while their clueless parents are sipping on their wine (and ignoring their children). Your article doesn't even touch on that source of torture. How come?

Tom Sietsema: I think I hinted at it when I quoted the mom from one of my online chats who enjoyed the noisy restaurants because other patrons wouldn't hear her child acting up.

Good morning, everyone. Thanks for sharing your lunch hour with me. There are already lots of questions and comments about noise and restaurants, so let's roll!

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Bethesda, Md.: Thank you for addressing the noise issue in restaurants! I am 42 years old, have worn hearing aids since I was 26, and find it very difficult to enjoy dining out with friends or discuss business with colleagues because I can rarely participate in the conversation. In fact, I often go out alone because of this. When I am out with others, at least the smoking ban allows me to breathe comfortably while I enjoy the food and smile pleasantly at my chatty, though incomprehensible companions. I have learned not to just say yes or nod my head because once I accidentally agreed to host a Mary Kay party...

Tom Sietsema: See how much harm a noisy restaurant can inflict on a person? Thanks for the chuckle.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Thank you, thank you for running this article. My husband and I were eating with friends Friday night and we commented on how happy we were NOT to be eating at Zaytinya, where we had had our previous meal together and had given up trying to talk over the noise. (Friday we were at Persimmon in Bethesda -- noise level was low when we arrived, but definitely increased during the evening -- still it was tolerable.)

I can't wait for your sound ratings. I will definitely use them when choosing a restaurant.

Tom Sietsema: I hope readers like the new ratings. They will include a decibel average and several words describing the scene.

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washingtonpost.com: Tom Sietsema's new noise rating scale

Tom Sietsema: There you go.

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Fort Washington, Md.: When our teenager complains about the noise, we knew noise levels were bad. Who wants to dine in a place that has the noise level of a high school cafeteria? I am not going to people-watch, but eat!!

Tom Sietsema: I've received a couple hundred emails about my story thus far, and I'm surprised by how many twenty-, thirty- and forty-somethings are telling me they want restaurants to turn down the volume.

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Brooklyn, New York: I was wondering why you didn't include loud music in your discussion. If music is loud in a restaurant, people have to talk over it. And so the cycle of noise increases upward.

Tom Sietsema: I mentioned the sound system at Westend Bistro -- deep into the story, however.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Tom, thank you for your article on noise levels in restaurants. Although you focused on "sit-down" restaurants, the problem is the same or worse in the sandwich shops where most of us have our everyday lunches. At least four places within walking distance of my office are so noisy that I will not patronize them unless the weather is good enough to take my lunch outdoors. I hope your new noise meter ratings can bring about some much needed change.

Tom Sietsema: Me too!

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Washington, D.C.:

Great story! Usually the main cause of a noisy restaurant is a pressed-tin ceiling, which is decorative but really jacks up the din.

But there is also the opposite problem. Years ago, on a family trip, we ate at the officers' club at Norton Air Force Base, near San Bernardino. A small, plain, and absolutely quiet room with no background music or noise from the kitchen. We felt we had to whisper so that the other diners, mostly single, old officers, could not overhear us. Too quiet, in fact -- one officer fell asleep at his table behind us, and we heard the waitress saying, "Sir, please wake up! Your dinner is ready..."

So, a little noise can keep everyone awake.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the good laugh.

You're right. Restaurants can be *too* hushed. Most patrons probably expect -- and welcome -- a bit of liveliness with their meal. As a restaurateur once told me, "No diner wants to walk into a mausoleum."

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Say What?: Best part of your article: that you'll be including info about the noise in your reviews.

I will say that noise at 2 Amys, which seems much more casual, is more tolerable to me than noise at Charlie Palmer's or other supposedly (more) upscale places.

Tom Sietsema: Because you're paying more at CP Steak than at Two Amy's? I think price is certainly a factor in how much we can tolerate noise.

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Washington, D.C.: What, no review this week? Slacker.

Tom Sietsema: Hey, that story was a huge commitment of time!

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One More: Falls Church: Argia's, a small space with decent Italian food, is one of the loudest I've encountered. Initially, we thought it would be a cozy place (and it was when first opened), but after a couple more tries, we've just walked out without ordering.

Tom Sietsema: If restaurant owners only knew how much business they aren't seeing because their dining rooms are too loud for would-be patrons!

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Ringing Ears in the West End: I'm glad other people consider this to be a problem. Last year four of us went to dinner at Rasika for a friend's birthday, and they shoved us in the side room with a table of 15 that was celebrating something else. Combine the noisiness of Rasika with the bare-walled side room and a huge table of shouting drunkards; it was unbearable. We asked to be moved but they told us they didn't have any other tables, so we just shouted our way through what we had hoped would be a nice meal -- it didn't turn out that way. Why would they even set up a separate table in a room like that? Maybe the manager's hearing is so damaged by the din that he doesn't even notice any more.

Tom Sietsema: It's really a shame. The chef, Vikram Sunderam, deserves a better backdrop for his incredible Indian cooking.

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Mio Noise: When I was at Mio a couple of weeks ago everything was great including food and service and even noise. The wide expanse of the restaurant dampens the noise between the bar and the "lounge" everywhere. But then the piano player started banging out "My Heart Will Go On" and I couldn't hear the person sitting next to me. We were at a table close by but it was just insane. I found myself nodding and saying "yeah" no matter what I thought might be being said. Will your noise ratings take everything into account or just conversation volume?

Tom Sietsema: If I notice a specific noise problem, I'll likely mention it in the text of the review -- as I have for too many new restaurants of late.

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Odenton, Md.: Mr. Sietsema, is there any reason that the fact you have received numerous complaints from people about this subject is further evidence of the relentless self-absorbed attitude of so many people in our region? If you go somewhere that is too loud, vote with your feet and go elsewhere next time. Is a full article really necessary to address such a basic concept?

Tom Sietsema: In conversations with my colleagues in other markets, almost all of them complain about noisy restaurants. It's certainly not a problem specific to DC.

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Killing them Softly (our ears), Washington, D.C.: I'm still relatively young, so I still feel invincible, but worth noting that prolonged periods of time spent in environments with noise levels above 85 decibels can permanently damage your ears (the normal range for conversation/speaking is 65)!! There's some food for thought!

Tom Sietsema: Yeah. It's not just Metallica concerts that the youngins have to watch out for!

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Clifton, Virginia: As if you needed something else to complain about with your ridiculous rating system. It can't be good for local business. "Everything was perfect, but it was too loud/quiet so I give it one and a half stars". How about air quality? Quality of bathroom tissue? Height, weight and sexual preference of the servers? Please, just tell me about good, highly rated food. After all, you are the FOOD critic.

Tom Sietsema: I wouldn't be doing my job if I ignored the single biggest complaint I hear from my audience.

Plus, my job involves telling readers about the ENTIRE dining experience. Trust me, people want to know about more than just the food. They want to know what a dining room looks like, who else is eating there, what the place feels like -- what it *sounds* like.

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Arlington, Va.: WHAT?? COULD YOU SPEAK LOUDER? I CAN'T HEAR YOU.

Tom Sietsema: THAT'S EXACTLY THE WAY I FELT FRIDAY NIGHT, WHEN I WAS EATING AT A RESTAURANT I PLAN TO REVIEW IN MAY!

My ears were ringing the next morning. Ouch.

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Alexandria, VA: All of these posters mentioning restaurants they won't return to because they're too noisy reminds me of the old Yogi Berra quote, "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded." Obviously SOME diners enjoy the atmosphere at livelier places!

Tom Sietsema: True. And I found some of those noise lovers, and gave them some ink, in yesterday's story.

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Qingdao, China: Noise tends to be a somewhat an issue of age in China as well as a matter of education.

Expats tend to be well educated so perhaps that's why expat places tend to be quieter eating places than Chinese. Also Westerners are not used to crowded homes as the Chinese are, so that may be pertinent as well.

I plan to open an eating place soon and my plans are to make it possible to have a talk, not a shout.

The first step in that is to control the music.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for weighing in from across the globe.

I appreciate your comments, but I have to say, I've seen a lot of "educated" diners talking and laughing quite loudly before.

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Arlington, VA: Whenever you start talking about noise, I think back to my- fairly recent- childhood when we would venture to the Officer's Club for the Sunday Lunch Buffet after church about once a month. Somehow this place managed to have the perfect noise atmosphere in a large room and I remember my parents commenting on it. Background piano player, space between tables, quiet lull of conversation... only now, at the ripe old age of 26, do I get what my parents were talking about! Thank you for the story and trip back to the O Club.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for sharing your memory with us.

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Redlands, CA: Each restaurant should have somebody that yells SHHH! periodically, just like they do in the Sistine Chapel for all the noisy tourists. About every 15 minutes the crowd gets loud they yell SHHHH! or something similar and then crowd goes soft till they get loud again in another 15 minutes.

Tom Sietsema: You're right! I was in Rome after Christmas and remember laughing (quietly, of course!) at just that scene during my visit to the Sistine Chapel.

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2 Amys lover: Somehow the noise at 2 Amys is tolerable, perhaps because one isn't there for very long, perhaps because the light is so bright, perhaps because the Sicilian anchovies on Italian bread make me forget everything else.

Tom Sietsema: Spoken like a true gourmet.

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Background noise: Tom,

Thanks for the great article on restaurant noise. Next, will you take on department stores and gas stations? Nothing bugs me more than trying to fill my car with gas while suffering through 100 decibels of Barbara Streisand. Sadly, I'm not joking.

Tom Sietsema: I think I'll stick to what I know best, thanks.

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Logan Circle, DC: I only eat at Zaytinya for lunch these days as I can't stand the loudness at night but I still love the menu.

Why don't more restaurants follow the Viridian lead? The eggshell padding under the tables, the soft fabric around the columns and on walls really helped and made it a regular destination even though the menu was uneven. It doesn't seem like it would be that costly.

What other ways could restaurants cut down on noise?

Tom Sietsema: Linens on tables help. Low ceilings help. Pillows and bolsters and leather on banquettes and benches all also help absorb excess noise.

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Arlington: While the noise levels and acoustics are irritating (try having a conversation at Ceiba), it's the proximity of tables that most drives me crazy. I won't go to Ten Penh anymore because of that - the tables are just too close together and I am not comfortable with carrying on a conversation when the tables next to me can overhear everything I'm saying (or I can hear everything they're saying). On the other hand, I choose 701 Restaurant for my business lunches in particular because of the large tables that are widely spaced apart. Oya is also pretty good for that . . .

Tom Sietsema: Yep, I can vouch for 701.

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Bethesda: Mr. Sietsema, thank you for the fantastic article and the new decibel rankings for restaurants. They -will- make a difference when I select a restaurant!

It's funny, one of the justifications for banning smoking in restaurants was the health risk to the restaurant staff. Loud noise is also a health risk, and 85dB is quite loud. Loud noise will not kill you (at least not directly), but it has a tremendous impact on an individual's well being. And unlike a lung, which regenerates, hair cells - the parts of the ear that sense vibrations - do not. Once they're gone, they're gone.

A question: what happened to John Maynard?

Tom Sietsema: John Maynard, the cover model on yesterday's Magazine, is now toiling at the just-opened Newseum here in Washington.

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Capitol Hill, D.C.: Tom, you are right on with this article. I'm 28, and can't stand trying to share a meal with friends while competing with the low roar at most restaurants. I think Hank's is the worst offender in this regard. This is what propels Corduroy to the top of my list in places to eat; I hope their new place isn't cacophonous.

Tom Sietsema: The original Corduroy (soon to reopen in new digs at 1122 9th St. NW) was among a handful of places I could steer readers who were looking for a quiet place to talk. I hope the forthcoming restaurant continues to offer that signature.

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Alexandria VA: I think the noise level ratings are a great idea. So often, we want to select a restaurant that will allow ease of quiet conversation (for whatever reason....business deals, hearing impaired elders, quiet romantic dinner) and can't think of any but a very few old stalwarts. It's just a question of informed consumerism: those who are actively looking for a quiet place will have the information available to them, and those who don't mind noise (or seek it out) needn't worry. It shouldn't affect the number of stars given for food quality, taste, presentation, etc. Was it your intent to modify star awards based on noise?

Tom Sietsema: I will not factor noise in my star ratings. I prefer to let readers decide for themselves, based on the future sound checks, whether they want to visit a quiet, a moderately noisy or a painfully noisy establishment.

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What about the light?: I know people dislike too dark restaurants, but I was sitting in a restaurant the other day and I felt like I needed sunglasses! Unless you are a fast food joint, dim those lights please!

Tom Sietsema: Hmmmm. Could this be the start of another cover story?

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RE: If you go somewhere that is too loud, vote with your feet and go elsewhere next time. Is a full article really necessary to address such a basic concept? : What's wrong with letting restaurant managers and owners in general know, via an article and the chats, that we don't like the excessive noise trend? Maybe they haven't realized so many people dislike the noise and will now do something about it.

I have eaten elsewhere "next time" only to end up at another too noisy restaurant. If I love the food at one place and the noise is the ONLY thing holding me back, the restaurant should know about it.

Thanks Tom, for providing a service with your article.

Tom Sietsema: You're welcome!

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Washington, DC: From your article, "Even so, Muchery doesn't think the noise at Westend Bistro is a problem. He says he hasn't received a single complaint about it since the restaurant opened."

Maybe he just couldn't hear the complaints, due to the noise!

Tom Sietsema: Good come-back!

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40-something quiet seeker: For a super-quiet meal, try the front seating at David Craig. No music and only a few other tables near you. The rear seating is noisier as the tables are close together and you get kitchen noise.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the tip.

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Silver Spring: In response to an earlier poster who called the complainers the ones who are self-absorbed, I'd say it's quite the opposite.

I'm 41 and I'd say a large part of the noise in restaurants is that many people my age and younger seem to think that their lives are a lost episode of "Friends" or "Seinfeld."

Those shows raised the discussion of minutiae to an art form and, hence, people talk loudly in public spaces as if they are performing for the people around them.

I am a loud and opinionated person but in public spaces, I'm sick of hearing people pontificate, chat on cell phones EVERYWHERE but in private, and generally make themselves seen and heard over and over again.

One day, if I get enough money, I'm going to open a sushi restaurant where one can only speak in a whisper.

Tom Sietsema: Will your future customers pay extra if they want to speak up?

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Sunday's Column: I really appreciated your column addressing noise concerns in restaurants. As a twenty-five year old, with a somewhat small voice, I often find myself struggling in order to be heard. Due to noise in restaurants, I almost always choose to dine at off-peak hours (or, better yet, enjoy a lunch date rather than a dinner date, when music is often quieter).

I have had some fairly bad responses when I have commented about noise concerns. In one restaurant, at an off-peak time when the dining room was nearly empty, I politely asked to be moved away from a large stereo speaker (and a very loud, large party), and my husband and I were treated very rudely for the rest of the evening.

I was, up until that point, a fairly regular customer (having eaten there four times in the previous three weeks). In another restaurant, I was assured that customers enjoyed it and I needed to "lighten up." Needless to say, paying to be surrounded by noise so deafening that you can hardly think just is not worth it.

Tom Sietsema: Dining at off-peak hours is definitely one solution to the noise problem -- unless it's not, as you point out. I wouldn't care to patronize a place where a server told me to "lighten up" in response to a simple request.

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Arlington, Va.: Tom, do you think it's that the profit margins are so thin in restaurants that causes them to cut corners in noise reduction? There are places I will not go anymore (bars especially) if I can't hear myself think.

Tom Sietsema: Installing noise barriers isn't overly expensive, I've been told by designers, but it's best that the materials be put in place BEFORE rather than AFTER construction is complete. Mistakes and oversights are the big money drains.

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Will it make a difference?: Tom, you wrote in your article that the reviewer in SanFran noted the noise level in his review. And yet, ten years later he believes it has not made any difference in the local industry. Do you expect a shift here in DC based on the decibel notations?

Tom Sietsema: Part of the solution is to take the issue public. I hope restaurateurs are paying attention, because diners of all ages are telling me they don't like excessive noise -- and they're going elsewhere because of it.

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Washington, D.C.: I teach elementary school and every day during lunch we make the students eat silently for 5 minutes. Silence is golden!

Tom Sietsema: What a great idea. I'm not sure that would work on the restaurant scene, but ...

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Washington, DC: Mr. Sietsema, thanks for taking on this issue. It's a legitimate concern for lots of reasons. One question I have--obviously, the decibel scale you're planning to use is an absolute measure, but is it fair to presume that in your reviews you'll also mention how the loudness plays into the overall atmosphere of the place?

That is to say, sometimes I go out EXPECTING a loud place and sometimes I expect reasonable quiet. A trip for burgers or pizza and a few beers prior to a CAPITALS PLAYOFF GAME (shameless plug for the Caps!) is one where I expect a fair amount of noise and I don't mind it. The noise is part of the atmosphere you expect to have with other hockey fans congregating, so the fact that Matchbox or Gordon Biersch might be extremely loud isn't necessarily a bad thing. Is it reasonable to expect you to approach the noise issue with that sort of concept in mind as well?

Tom Sietsema: Absolutely. I wouldn't trust a pizza joint that sounded like a spa, you know?

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Glenwood, MD: Good answer to the Clifton, VA reader who thinks dining is only about the food. Ambience is also part of the experience - that includes noise levels, as far as I'm concerned. As a mom of an almost-16-year-old, I can tell you it's hard enough getting your teen to talk to you - they are NOT going to yell. And like some of the other readers, as I get older, my hearing gets worse, so my daughter gets frustrated (i.e. mad) if I keep asking her to repeat. It can make the entire dining experience lousy. I think your rating system is a great idea!!!

Tom Sietsema: Here's to better family communication!

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Clifton, Virginia: It just seems that you are more interested in pointing out flaws in restaurants than the good things about a dining experience. You did not mention that the noise rating was to be separate from the star rating until this chat. Now you are excited about rating the lighting. Do you see a trend?

Tom Sietsema: I was JOKING about the lighting, dear reader. Sometimes my sense of humor gets lost in translation here.

I love restaurants, I love food and I care about the general public. In other words, I want restaurants to succeed -- but why should I refrain from pointing out flaws (i.e. making suggestions for improvement)? To do otherwise is to thumb my nose at my constituency.

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Chantilly, Va.: Have any restaurants contacted you about your noise ratings? If so, what have their comments been?

Tom Sietsema: I am looking at a blinking red light on my phone and hundreds of unopened email. I'm guessing there might be a restaurant owner or five in that crowd.

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Arlington: When you introduce the noise ratings, would you consider letting the readers know where you felt most of the noise was coming from during your visits? If it is habitually loud music, that may turn me off more than if it is mainly conversations, as I am generally an earlier (6-6:30) diner.

Loved the article!

Tom Sietsema: I'm not sure if I can highlight specific table numbers or whatever, but as I pointed out in yesterday's piece, the quieter areas of the restaurant tend to be on the edges, away from the bar and any open kitchen.

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Hoarse in D.C.: Thanks for writing about this issue! My friends and I experienced this excessive noise problem recently at Lima, but there it was intentional. As the night went on, the staff cranked the music louder and louder, until we were all yelling at each other even as we were sitting just a foot or so apart. Granted, we were sitting in the lounge, and not the restaurant, but what do people do in a lounge besides talk and drink? And yet, the sound was so loud, we might as well have been in the middle of a dance floor. What's the point of that? We were all hoarse by the end of the night (with ringing ears), shaking our heads about how it was just too darn loud to be enjoyable... eventually we had to leave.

I can see how a quiet lounge might not seem "hot" and "buzzing," but there is a line that too many places cross. I hope your article makes them think twice before they gratuitously add to an already painful problem.

Not surprisingly, Lima also has a noisy website...

Tom Sietsema: When I reviewed Lima, I remember wanting to get out of the lounge as quickly as possible. The place was painfully noisy.

Cranking up the tunes only makes patrons raise their voices. It starts a vicious cycle, doesn't it?

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Birthday singers: Since they can can ban smoking for no other reason than to protect the health of the staff (It actually is an OSHA regulation, enforceable by only the health department) why can't a ban be put on birthday singers? My restaurant hosts many, many large groups weekly that feel the need to sing, some more than others. OBNOXIOUS behavior for all.....

Tom Sietsema: I'm now curious to get a decibel reading on The Birthday Song. I'll keep me ears open for such, ok?

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Bethesda: I have this complaint about bars too. I know in a bar you have to expect it to be louder, and at 11:00 PM I'll give it to you, but what's the point of blasting music at 6:00 PM happy hour?

Tom Sietsema: Because loud music creates a certain buzz the owners think their patrons want?

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Noise + Hearing Aids: For what it's worth, I've found that sitting in a booth (especially the ones with high backs) or with your back to the wall/banquette works well. I've worn hearing aids from the age of 3. At 35, this is the only way to hear in a restaurant. I usually just leave the hearing aids out of my ears and lip read. Although, it can be gross when people have mouths full of food! Mind your manners, people!

Tom Sietsema: I'm smiling. Thanks for sharing your tricks.

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Washington, D.C.: I bet you're tired of the question, "Tom, was that you on the cover???" Anyway, it would have been nice to see Spices mentioned in your cover story. It seems that their redesign significantly reduced sound in the dining room. It looks like they may have put cork or something on the walls and it makes a world of difference. When I saw the change last year, they became my hearo. Get it, hearo? Ha!

Tom Sietsema: That was definitely NOT me on the cover of the Magazine. Given my beat, I'm a guy who wants to dine as anonymously as possible.

Spices is definitely quieter now than when it opened, I agree.

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Alexandria, Va.: A Comment and a question or two:

Dear Mr. Sietsema -- Though a native Washingtonian, I have never had occasion, I don't believe, to read one of your articles before. But as soon as I saw "noise" and "appetite" in the headline, I clicked on your article. Thank you for bringing up one of the least appealing aspects of "going out" in the U.S. I tend to favor Chinese restaurants (especially for business lunches) because I find that they tend on average to be MUCH quieter, in part due to design perhaps, but mostly due to the style of the diners who seem to speak far more quietly.

I was shopping yesterday morning at a Trader Joe's and asked to remove the jackhammer they were playing on the PA system. (They immediately changed to music, but still put the volume uncomfortably high, but I responded with my secret weapon -- turning off my hearing aids).

My greatest complaint is the refusal to reduce the volume. Servers will shrug and say they they have no control, or they will say they will see what they can do and nothing happens. It is clear that many restaurants' POLICY is to tell servers that they cannot comply with requests to reduce the noise level. Is this true, do you do? Why don't restaurants give the servers the ability to respond to these kinds of requests?

I suppose I could respond by belting out "O sole mio" in my best shower voice, but somehow I think that wouldn't advance matters much.

In any event, if you start putting NOISE RATINGS on restaurants, I for one, will start paying attention. Excessive noise is restaurants and bars is the single greatest barrier to an enjoyable experience. Thank you again for trying to raise your voice a bit to try to make this complaint heard by the restaurateurs.

Tom Sietsema: I'm happy to earn a new reader. Thanks for your comments, and stay tuned: Sound checks start with my next (regular) dining column on April 20.

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Capitol Hill: Thanks for the great article on NOISE in restaurants. The rating system will be helpful. The worst offender was Bistrot du Coin - a restaurant whose food I liked but was unable to enjoy. After two noisefests I have never gone back. Tosca is great - you can hear everyone at the table - but not really anyone else at the other tables.

Table spacing is probably a contributor - it seems that the noisier restaurants may be trying to cram too many people in too small a space.

Tom Sietsema: Tight spacing certainly contributes to the decibel count in restaurants. Another side effect of tables parked too close to one another: accidents. More than once, I've watched a diner try to ease in (or out of) a snug seat, only to drag a water or wine glass along with him!

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Crofton, Md.: One thing I've noticed in this chat that is different than your weekly chat is that there are few comments by those in the industry. I wonder what they think about noise? Have they just gotten used to it? Are servers concerned about saying something to management when diners complain? For instance, when I worked as a bartender, if one customer wanted me to turn down the volume on the TV overhanging the bar, half the time another customer wanted me to turn it up. I imagine something similar could happen between customers that like to talk loudly, like to use their cell phone, bring loud children to restaurants, etc...How do you balance competing concerns between different customers?

Tom Sietsema: I hear from a lot of people in the business, but generally AFTER the chat. My usual online spot (11 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays) precludes a lot of restaurant types from participating on the live discussion. They're serving lunch then. Same for today.

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Beltsville, MD: Hey Tom, this is Eric. Thank you for the invitation to join you for this article. It is definitely interesting to se how this all came together. I hope more restaurants in the future look into ways to maybe dampen the noise a bit, especially from their bars. I realize that a lot of people look for a place that is lively, but it would be great if there could be some way to accommodate both sides of the spectrum.

Tom Sietsema: Hey, buddy! Thanks for being such a good sport. You, too, Amy Wang! I enjoyed meeting both of you.

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Silver Spring, MD: Tom,

Personally, I wish restaurants would get rid of all TVs out side the bar area (sports joints excluded obviously). They are an annoying distraction. If noise is from conversation, I can deal with it. If it's from a television, it's like being in my parent's house where the TV blares all day long.

Tom Sietsema: Restaurateurs tell me diners EXPECT TVs in their establishments. And this being news-hungry Washington, I can understand. But still. I hate TVs, too.

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Rockville, Md.: Thanks for highlighting noise in your article. My problem with noise has to do with other parties talking at the top of their lungs (especially after they have had a few...) That's the reason we have stopped going to Addie's, its sister restaurant in Garret Park, and Mykonos. The waiters are not interested in angering their clients by asking them to "keep it low".

Mrs. W

Tom Sietsema: You hear that, you two?

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Washington, D.C.: Once upon a time 4 of us were dining at the Crab Claw in St. Michael's on a Saturday night. The other woman in our party stood up and at the top of her lungs said, YOU PEOPLE BE QUIET!!! A hush came over the previously LOUD restaurant scene.

It was only temporary though until everyone realized what had happened. Then it got loud again.

Tom Sietsema: Well, that's ONE way to get a reprieve from the din. At least for a few minutes, huh?

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Lexington Park, MD: When I waited tables at the Olive Garden in college, our GM forbid us from singing "Happy Birthday" to our tables because it bothered other guests. And by forbid, I mean he gave us an excuse to fake-wince and say "Aww, we can't do that here".

Tom Sietsema: I'm all in favor of "fake winces!"

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Silver Spring: that does it - birthday singers are now frowned upon!! what morons you have for readers (except me)!

Tom Sietsema: Oops, I guess I sent that last post too soon ...

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Washington, D.C.: OK. Agreed that a "buzz' is fine but loud hooting, shrieking, clapping, and boorishness is not. Now, whose responsibility is it to contain the noise??? Other diners?? The management??? I know of one restaurant where the manager went over to ask a group to keep the noise down and the next day one of the group (all at the table were minority group women) wrote the owners claiming "discrimination," with copies to all the local networks, civil rights organizations, etc. blasted the restaurant and the manager on the internet, etc. So... damned if you do, damned if you don't...

Honestly, running a restaurant and dealing with the public is hard!!! I can't imagine why anyone would do it!!!!

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for bringing up a point I should have made in my article: Diners bear some of the responsibility for the noise created in a restaurant. It's not just hard surfaces and loud music that contribute to ringing ears.

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"Spry"???: Geez, Tom. Have a heart. You described a diner taking her "spry 60-year old father" to dinner. My husband and I are 59, and we are WAYYYYY more than "spry." And we don't anticipate tipping over next year when the big 6-0 comes around!

Tom Sietsema: Fair point. I just wanted readers to get the picture of a mature man who was healthy except for his hearing loss.

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Silver Spring: Great article! I hope that places such as Zaytinya will attempt to fix their problems. I love the food there, but will not go back while it remains so loud. My last two experiences there were almost ruined by the difficulties in hearing my dining partners.

Do you plan to go back through your old online reviews and add noise ratings, or will this only apply to new reviews?

Tom Sietsema: I've found the best time to visit Zaytinya -- well, the QUIETEST time to visit the restaurant -- is lunch on a Saturday. But not every diner has that option.

I don't plan to revisit all of the hundreds of restaurants I've reviewed since 2000 with my sound level meter. But I'll certainly be taking measure in the hundred or so restaurants that I plan to check out for my fall dining (October) guide.

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Oakton, VA: Great topic. Any suggestions for people on the other side of the coin? My husband's family is extremely loud when they get together and go out for a meal. To the point that I feel uncomfortable when I start noticing the patrons at other table giving us those "how rude" looks. I love my inlaws, but it is embarrassing! What can I do without turning myself into the Sistine Chapel "SHHHH!" guy???

Tom Sietsema: That's a tricky one, Oakton. What say the crowd?

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Capitol Hill: I seem to recall going to a restaurant (just a casual place) and being asked if I preferred to be seated in the "Quiet or lively" section. Seems like an easy way to satisfy both types of customer...

Tom Sietsema: Great idea. Can you recall the name of the restaurant? That's a trend a lot of diners could get behind, I think.

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TVs in restaurants: Two words: closed captioning. Though you don't appreciate just how vapid sportscasting commentary is until you actually try reading it.

Tom Sietsema: How true!

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Washington, D.C.: Tom

Thanks for my 15 min. of fame.

Ron

Tom Sietsema: Is this *the* Ron Brown? The guy in my story who had to re-propose to his girlfriend because of the din at Central Michel Richard? If so, thanks for sharing your tale with me!

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Volunteer: Do you need a volunteer to soundcheck previously-reviewed restaurants and bars? I'd be happy to do it!

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for raising your hand, but I have a pretty big stable of "volunteers" to help me out on my restaurant rounds.

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Annandale, Va.: hello - I've often wondered why restaurants don't invest in simple lightweight domes or shells over tables that could be suspended from unobtrusive overhead wires, providing an acoustic bubble for the people underneath. Even if the surrounding noise level were high, at least the people at the table could hear each other!

Tom Sietsema: I'm guessing that a restaurant designer or three might object to what sounds like a novel approach to the problem!

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sustained exposure: Add one more work-related hazard to waiting tables. I'd love to hear what the servers have to say, if they can hear the question.

Seriously, I know I paid the price for years of second-hand smoke, heavy lifting, etc.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for a fun hour, everyone. Feel free to bring your questions and comments about noise to my next chat, Wednesday at 11 a.m.

Chow for now.

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Tables Too Close: Another side effect of tables too close together -- I get my watermelon gelee with goat cheese foam with a "side order" of my neighbor's butt as they try and get out and walk to the restroom!

Tom Sietsema: Too funny! Or not.

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washingtonpost.com: If you'd like to extend your dining and drinking discussions today, head on over to the  Beer Madness discussion with Sunday Source's Joe Heim and beer writer Greg Kitsock, starting at 1!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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