Kate Krader (@kkrader on Twitter) is Food & Wine's restaurant editor. When she tells us where to find our culinary heart's desire, we listen up.
The Great GoogaMooga festival hits Brooklyn this weekend, which means it’s the unofficial start of Foodie Music Festival season. (Also on the list: Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, Austin City Limits, the recent Jazz Fest and the just announced Music City Eats in Nashville in September, which - full disclosure - Food & Wine will sponsor.)
Coincidentally or not, a lot of restaurants seem to be in a kind of sound system arms race to see who can be the noisiest. When the hot new restaurant app is a decibel reader, you know places are getting loud. Those spots that look like they just stopped being a warehouse yesterday - concrete everywhere, tablecloths nowhere - mean that the sound level could well approximate a construction site.
Since it’s not hard to find a noisy restaurant, let’s focus on the ones that are doing something interesting with their outsize sound.
Embrace the Noise
Texas Roadhouse - Louisville, Kentucky (with locations all over the US)
Consumer Reports surveyed more than 47,000 diners and found the Texas Roadhouse chain to be the noisiest in America. Texas Roadhouse CEO Kent Taylor responded: “We are proud to be loud. Upbeat country music, laughter, full restaurants and line dancing make for a great experience. It sure beats the heck out of wine sipping, chirping crickets and clinking silverware.” Each Texas Roadhouse also proudly has a high-volume jukebox, and a staff that’s not afraid to break out in line dances and birthday cheers every night.
Embrace Technology to Conquer the Noise
Comal - Berkeley, California
Speaking of food and music festivals, Comal owner John Paluska managed Phish for almost 20 years; now he’s doing something innovative with his restaurant’s acoustics. Artwork is backed with sound-absorbing material that stops noise from bouncing off the walls. Cleverly installed overhead microphones record ambient room noise, which gets played back in the dining room as a low-level white noise background. It can be turned up to make the room more bustling, or down to make it more mellow: the “holy grail of buzzy but conversational,” says Paluska.
Embrace the Noise as a Demonstration of Love
A-Frame - Los Angeles, California
When the L.A. Times took a decibel-measuring device to a handful of local restaurants, they found A-Frame to be the loudest, at 90.3 decibels. The restaurant’s chef-owner Roy Choi explained it this way on the Today show: “I want you to feel like you almost stumbled into a hug and we wrapped ourselves around you.” How can you be mad at that?
Schiller’s Liquor Bar - New York City
In the summer of 2012, the New York Times calculated the noise at this Lower East Side hot spot at 90 decibels (at that level, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, requires workers to wear hearing protection if they work for eight hours or more). Owner Keith McNally told the Times that employees are allowed to wear earplugs - guests presumably can bring their own - and that the DJ never plays more than four hours per night.
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It is cheaper for restaurants to be loud than not loud. I haven't destroyed my hearing by blasting them with loud music and thus I avoid these loud restaurants like the plague. But it is hard to find a restaurant that isn't loud. To make matters worse everyone is shouting to each other to have a conversation. When I go to movie theaters I take foam earplugs to wear because they pump up the volume to wake the dead. It is no wonder that we have so many hearing impaired middle age and seniors in America.
We avoid loud restaurants like the plague. I'm told they do it to have a quick turnover; however, I don't believe they last long once the public gets an earful of it.
I hate loud restaurants. Drowns out conversation. Overwhelms the food. Give me candlelight and something beautiful to go with beautiful food.
I have walked out of restaurants because the music was too loud or obnoxious (no dub step with my dinner, thanks ever so) but one I wish I had is Joe's Crab Shack, specifically the one in Oceanside, NY. Our first time in because of the insane wait time. We enjoyed our meal greatly, even complimented the assistant manager as he made the rounds. Just as we were finishing up, the music BLARED from a speaker directly over my head and the staff began line dancing. (For Chesapeake Bay-style crabs? Really?!) I was unable to finish the remaining crab legs, went in the bathroom and threw up because I'm subject to migraines and boy, did I leave with one!
Loud restaurants are a gamble. For example, I like Texas Roadhouse food. I won't eat there anymore. It is beyond "upbeat." In fact it is shrill and obnoxious. I have tinnitus and am exhausted before I'm served. Starbucks goes for the soundtrack thing. I would like to read and work and eat breakfast there. Alas, some surly hipster wants some atonal moaning at 8AM at top volume. If I have to speak over the soundtrack to order AND be overcharged, well I'll order a steaming hot cup of NO. With MP# players so prevalent, why pay for Muzak or fuss with it? And how come it is so rare to find live music? Why more digital mulch?
Hate loud restaurants. It's impossible to have a conversation or even hear what the server says. If I have to raise my voice or ask twice what someone said, I don't go back.
I don't go back to a restaurant that is so loud that it is a bad experience and I can't even talk to my table mates. I don't go out to be assaulted with unreasonably loud music and horrible acoustics.
Yuck. I miss places like Steak & Ale where every table was a quiet and semi-private booth. I don't dine out to be accosted by noise equivalent to a rock concert. I want to enjoy chatting with my table mates - in a regular, adult, indoor voice and not yelling in their ears.
If I want loud, lousy music, I will go to a disco or bar. If I want to dine, I will go to a decent restaurant. I do not intend to go to one that attempts to mix them both together. I want a dinner, and conversation with whoever I (we) are with, and I would like to be able to hear that conversation! Restaurants should not attempt to compete with discos!!! I need not have my hearing destroyed by some of the crap music they have wired in from who knows where!! So sorry, but I am an old bastard who doesn't spend any money, so who would listen to me??? You ain't gonna cater to us old people. Not to worry, we'll just fade into the background – like maybe your parents did!!!