Think back to the last time you went into a restaurant only to discover it was so loud that you and your companions could not be heard without shouting at one another. Perhaps you’ve had such an experience recently. If so, you are not alone. Loud seems to be in these days. What’s more, having a restaurant filled with ear-piercing sounds appears to be occurring by design. You can help reverse that trend, beginning with your choice of table linens.
A fascinating article last summer from Vox contributor Julia Belluz unpacked the loud restaurant phenomenon. Her July 2018 article examined a number of reasons restaurants seem to be getting louder. At the top of the list is a trend that actually began in the late 1990s, thanks to celebrity chef Mario Batali.
According to Belluz’s research, Batali began pumping the same music his kitchen staff was listening to into the dining room to create more of a “energizing” effect. Batali theorized that the shared musical experience would add energy to the space—energy that would make patrons feel like they were in the middle of a ton of action. He thought this would encourage more social interaction and lend a more positive vibe.
His celebrity status gave Batali’s opinions a lot of weight. Soon thereafter, restaurants around the country began following his lead. Today, it is almost unheard of to operate a sit-down restaurant in which guests can actually talk to one another at normal levels.
Belluz cites additional explanations for noise problems in restaurants. These factors include the use of less acoustically pleasing buildings and changes in the core table settings. With so many restaurants attempting to adapt to an industrial look, linen tablecloths and napkins have fallen by the wayside. Guess what? Bringing them back into your restaurant space can do a lot to combat noise.
Simply put, linen tablecloths and place settings absorb sound. They are particularly adept at absorbing the sound generated by conversations at the same table, helping ensure that what you are talking about doesn’t travel next door to your neighbor’s ears.
Table linens also dampen the sounds of clanging dishes and stemware. They absorb the sound of silverware being handled. With all of the noises produced organically at individual tables then less likely to travel throughout the dining room, the entire space is kept quieter.
This entire discussion eventually leads to the question of why the issue of noise matters at all. First, it is worth noting that Belluz’s research suggests that some restaurant owners prefer things noisy because this increases table turnover. Customers do not want to linger as long, and encouraging them to leave faster means having more open tables to serve the next paying guests.
A noisy environment may help with table turnover, but it is not good for the health of employees and guests. Excessive noise can damage the ears and cause headaches, anxiety, and a number of other issues. Therefore, exposing employees to excessive levels of noise five days each week for eight hours every day is not beneficial and can even be harmful.
Also, consider that patrons may not return to a restaurant that they perceive as too noisy. They are also not as likely to recommend the establishment to friends, meaning much of the table turnover is catering to first-time guests only, customers the restaurant may never see again. That is not conducive to building a loyal following.
Overall, noise is a significant problem for America’s restaurants. There are many different ways to address the problem, beginning with the simple act of bringing back table linens. Of course, turning down the music wouldn’t hurt either!