Is Restaurant Noise a Crime? Our Critic Mounts a Ringing Defense

Pete Wells says he and many others actually like the racket that so many readers revile.

Comments: 204

  1. I don't mind conversation or music. I mind the wailing of ill-behaved children and the sound of their mind-numbing electronic devices, which I hear because the parents do not want to parent them, and also didn't bother to bring headphones for them.

  2. @Mimi I'm with you. I had to sit through 25 minutes of Baby Shark while I had lunch last week.

  3. @Mimi Amen!

  4. @Mimi Was about to post exactly this. We experienced this recently at a new local restaurant where the entrees averaged $25-35. There were screaming screen-watching kids at every other table (if they weren't running around the restaurant). My kids ate out all the time when they were little. Screaming and screens and running around were not allowed. If your kids can't sit down to eat and use their indoor voices, stick to Chuck-E-Cheese or get a sitter.

  5. Many restaurants make no effort to dampen noise through interior design.

  6. @Quinn Actually. many restaurants deliberately amplify the noise level in their design.

  7. @Quinn Actually most restaurants don’t have interior designers.

  8. As someone who works in a restaurant and eats in them as well. I love the noise. The sound of voices, music and banging and clanging means that as a waiter were busy as a business. I feel like I'm in the land of the living. Things are happening. Its exciting to me to hear that beautiful noise.

  9. "To those who ask about decibel readings, I say they strike me as false precision, because variables like the night of the week or the number of tables for six or more can have a major effect on the volume. " As a frequent reader of Tom Sietsema's review in the Washington Post, I appreciate his use of decibel readings and estimates of how loud one must talk to overcome the ambient noise. A restaurant review is a review of the food and the setting on the occasion the reviewer has eaten there. Noise levels probably vary, so does the quality of the kitchen's work. The point of a review is to let a potential customer know what to expect when he or she arrives, rather than receiving a nasty surprise. Whether concerning the quality of the food, the price, or the noise level, it's good to have advance notice. As a decibel fancier, it would be fair for Wells to say, in a review, the place was so loud I had to shout to be heard by my companions - I loved it!! But please let the rest of us know too.

  10. @rungus There are several apps that collect input and list restaurant noise levels. I use soundprint. It checks the decibel level in the restaurant and adds it to a data base. You can either use if for revenge - your input counts - or to scroll through the listings to find less loud eateries. There are several.

  11. I'm ok with noise if I am eating alone. But if I'm with someone I want to be able to talk to them as well. Too many restaurants don't seem to understand this - the ones I no longer go to.

  12. I wonder if the decibel level in many restaurants exceeds that which is permitted in factories? The staff have to live with this for many hours a day. I admit to being surprised that the level of noise in so many restaurants is so widely deemed acceptable. Conversation over a meal would seem to be the point, but maybe not. Perhaps the noise saves people from having to converse.

  13. I believe you stated a solution: "There are ways to hold down the racket, though, such as ceiling tiles, foam pads, even ropes snaked around pipes and table legs. Equalizers can be tuned so that music plays more softly in the frequencies that compete most fiercely with conversation." Many restaurants have reverberated sound which is quite painful for those of us with even mild hearing loss. They can do something about this and choose not to. In one loud restaurant when we asked to lower the volume of the music, the waiter said that the volume automatically rises with the ambient noise (people) there, so an ever rising noise level. ugh.

  14. @rf That restaurant typifies the utter ignorance of many restaurant owners and managers: They have the bizarre idea that making the music even louder as people have to yell over it is a good idea. It is not.

  15. I agree with much of what Mr. Wells says here, and generally enjoy the sonic swim of being in a buzzy, chatty restaurant. It's less appealing when the buzz is mixed with cramped seating and hard surfaces (and a price tag that neither matches the service or the food). I've never sat in a restaurant that was so successful at dampening noise and spacing seating that they managed to subdue a chatty crowd or ambient music; I wish more would make the attempt.

  16. The way surfaces are treated has a lot to do with noise. Hard surfaces all around will amplify whatever is happening. You're a food critic, so let me suggest an experiment. 1. Prepare a dish you like in your own kitchen. Then, before sitting down to enjoy it, turn on some really loud music, maybe even louder than you might like. Then eat/enjoy your food. 2. Somewhere in the middle of your meal, turn the music off and resume eating. I guarantee you that your other senses, including that of taste, will amplify and heighten in sensitivity. You will "hear" the food for a change instead of your brain having to process the noise in the room. I don't know the research but I do know in my own life that my sensory responses are affected when one or another sense is turned up or down. And THAT's why I really don't like noisy restaurants, in addition to being unable to hear my dining companion(s) because the people at the next table have had way too much to drink.

  17. @John In the 1960s I dated a girl that played the piano at dinner (no amplification) clubs and cocktail lounges. Very pleasant experience. People had polite conversations, heard the music and clapped. Now its all about table turn over. Make the dining experience as grinding and as short as possible. There are ways to dampen the bedlam with sound-absorbing wall treatments in addition to acoustical ceiling tiling or egg crateing.

  18. @h-from-missouri It is also about servers preferring loud music and owners thinking music makes guests happy. Apparently it does some.

  19. @John Better yet, turn on three different talk radio shows or podcasts at maximum volume.

  20. If you and your dining companions can’t hear each other [without shouting], then it’s too loud. After all, the joys of eating out with friends/family are about (a) the food and (b) dining/chatting/ conversing with your companions....On the rare occasions that I’m dining solo, noice level is irrelevant.

  21. As many from Italian families can attest, eating a meal with others in silence is tragic, almost unthinkable. Meals together are a gift, for sharing, talk, laughter, crying, shouting. Lots of red wine helps, but not essential. Long Live The Loud Restaurant!

  22. @Beantownah I have been living in Rome, Italy for many years where one can eat at any restaurant in peace and quiet. What you're describing seems to be an Italian/American experience. It is not so in Italy.

  23. @maria Interesting. This was not my experience living in Rome at all. We used to go out for 3 hour dinners that were plenty loud and everyone had their phone out the whole time. Big tables of families. Big tables of friends. Lots of noise--not pounding music--but plenty of boisterous voices.

  24. @Brian Voices, yes. But not music drowning those voices out.

  25. I'm glad to see this discussed explicitly. The counterpoint to Wells's new silences, though, is the ubiquity of amplification: people have the ability to play amplified sound almost anywhere, and do. For restaurants, there is more calculation involved, though, because restaurants have two important means to manage the soundscape. True, they can't directly manage the number of people (who are one key source of restaurant sound). But they can control the acoustics of the space and the volume of the music, and here's where I think I part ways with Wells. Too many restaurants choose acoustics that are bound to be very noisy if more than a few people are present and talking. They have lots of hard surfaces and little acoustic damping. This choice from the outset not only ensures a relatively high sound level, but actively creates one. That's because the second factor, music volume, is enhanced by overactive acoustics: music sounds louder (and often muddier) in very live rooms. That makes people talk louder to get over the music. And in many restaurants, they then turn up the music even louder (perhaps not consciously, but simply because the maitre'd thinks "I can't hear our music"). Which makes people talk even louder. Which makes other people talk louder.... and soon you have a deafeningly loud room. Restaurants can have a lively room without being cacaphonic, if they manage their acoustics. I wish they would!

  26. People who complain about the noise levels in restaurants should go to a nightclub. I went dancing in a Brooklyn club on Saturday. Even with earplugs, it was LOUD. After an experience like that, restaurants will feel like monasteries.

  27. I recently inquired on the "Social Qs" Facebook page (a sort of groupthink version of the NYT advice column) about tables of restaurant-goers playing videos for one another on their cell phones at full volume. One group member responded dismissively, "OK, Boomer." I am no longer a member of that group. Generally, when a restaurant is so loud that diners shout progressively louder so as to outshout other diners who are shouting progressively louder, that restaurant is no longer enjoyable.

  28. @SJS It's so rude that people assume that only Boomers object to loud restaurants. I was once on a date at a restaurant that was so loud, I was able to make out less than 10% of the conversation. Smiling and nodding works in these situations, but it's incredibly unpleasant. Even when in my late teens, I avoided loud restaurants, and I still do to this day. It's not necessarily an age thing. Some people just naturally tend to enjoy the company of others while dining. The loud clatter, chatter and music is a distraction from the dining experience and interacting with other fellow human beings. But perhaps that's a bit passe for most New Yorkers.

  29. @SJS I quit Social Qs for a similar reason. They've trended brash and oh so politely self-congratulatory for a few years now.

  30. When I am in a restaurant I want to be able to talk with my table companions. I am not there for a concert. Chefs should not impose their musical tastes on their customers. It does not add to the experience. In restaurants with no music guests can talk more quietly and be heard. The loud noise in some places certainly is due to the loud customers they attract, but most often it is guests trying to talk over the music and then talk over other guests also trying to be heard over music. Occasionally I ask waiter to please turn down the music. When they do so I immediately notice that other diners talk more quietly. For me, and I am sure many others, a loud restaurant so detracts from enjoyment of the food that I don't return. Obviously those restaurants get enough customers that they continue blasting music. (There is research showing people order more alcohol in loud places, so that could be a motive for restaurateurs to turn up the volume.) But many Times readers are not young and we would appreciate hearing before we show up which restaurants are quiet and which ones are loud.

  31. Just got back from 10 days in Paris - ate in all sorts of restaurants and never had to raise my voice to talk to my companions or struggle to hear the wait staff (who were speaking mainly a foreign language) or compete with the music. It was a pleasure that is generally missing now in NYC and DC unless you eat at 5:30 on a Tuesday.

  32. @Mcash That’s the only time I’ll go to a restaurant.

  33. What I love most--and appreciate--is the genteel conversation volume (and no music!!) in the better restaurants in Paris. The noise level in American restaurants is maddening. Many have television sets playing at full volume, in addition to so-called ambiance music, which is often aggressively indecorous and vulgar.

  34. It's not just the level of noise. It's how it's transmitted, the din. As soon as I walk into a chic, sparely decorated busy restaurant, I immediately know I'll have trouble hearing my dinner companion. It's amazing that these places pay a fortune for a decorator who doesn't understand that restaurants need FABRIC to muffle the noise.

  35. @HKGuy -- the decorator definitely does understand. The restaurant wants it that way on purpose. I was shocked when I learned that -- as shocked as I was at 7 years old when my mother told me that they could make pretty firework without the loud explosions that hurt my ears, but that men like the noises.

  36. Restaurants are way TOO noisy now and getting worse. The fad of stark interiors with no carpets, wall hangings, curtains etc. create echo chambers of ear-shattering dins. Couple that trend with aging populations dependent on hearing aids and you have a painful dining experience. I travel for business a great deal and probably average about 100 restaurant dinners per year. I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is to arrive at a place where they have paid attention to noise and created a refuge from the constant barrage of sound. To be able to share a conversation over dinner with friends without having to shout yourself hoarse is a nice evening albeit a rare event these days. You ought to try it and seek out those establishments that pay attention to their ambiance and do not want to have the noise level of a platform in Penn Station be their standard.

  37. I love going to a restaurant for the delicious food, for being waited upon, for the ambience, and mostly for quality time with people I care about. I love to look my friend or family member in the eye, and communicate about what's important to us. A noisy restaurant ruins this experience. My friend says something, and I hear only half of the words. After a while, I become frustrated and cease keeping up my end of the conversation. Restaurant owners like it noisy, because people eat more and eat faster in that environment. It's fine for people who like a loud venue to gather together and enjoy themselves. For me, it's a deal breaker.

  38. @Spideriffic I live across from a great restaurant in New York City. For more than a year we do not have gas in the building and the restaurant offered discount to all of us while the gas is being restored. Not being able to cook at home, we would have eaten there at least weekly by ourselves and often with our friends but since we had to walk out several times because of the noise, we do not..... it is worse for a brunch when the noise is even more infuriating.... so we only go when we "have to" eat early when the noise level is not too bad.... is this a way to run a business? I do not want to eat in a grave but the restaurant can gage the level of music to the rest of the noise and make it more palatable to all diners and not to the few who enjoy screaming which makes it painful for the rest of us....

  39. This quote illustrates why this gentleman doesn't have a clue about what he's talking about: We don’t love the wail of ambulance sirens, the brontosaurus stomp of garbage trucks or the steel-on-steel whine of the No. 4, 5 and 6 trains rounding into the Union Square station, but we’ll put up with them until somebody finds a quieter way to move sick people, trash and rush-hour commuters. He obviously is oblivious to the reality that 1. the vast, vast, majority of his readers don't live on the island of Manhattan; and 2. Yes, even the vast, vast, majority of restaurant-goers who read these reviews are not residents of that island. To be sure, there is a smaller group of restaurant-goers who dwell in that noise-inundated environment, and it seems the critic is more interested in them. But they are still a minority (perhaps they are a larger share of the clientele for very pricey hip new restaurants. Perhaps there should be a column reviewing places where ordinary people would tend to eat). The simple reality is that noise in restaurants is deliberate: it's a way to encourage faster turnover. Don't praise it.

  40. @Charles Steindel Are you complaining about the New York Times food critic reviewing a restaurant experience through the lens of being...a New Yorker?

  41. @Charles Steindel You may be reading the wrong restaurant review column.

  42. @wileycares "New Yorkers" are a much larger group than "Manhattan residents" (people who apparently love the clamor of early am trash pickups) and even larger compared to "people who must go to the latest hot, albeit noisy, restaurant."

  43. A nice buzz of voices and detectable but low-key music is welcome and pleasant. But too often these days, the music is loud, people raise their voices to be heard over it, and then raise them even more to be heard over their neighbors. I find have have a headache at the end of evenings like this. Add the proliferation of backless stools and benches and the trend of “shareable” small plates that are impossible to divide and share...the current dining scene makes me feel angry and ripped-off.

  44. @Elizabeth A spot on! Maybe sitting at communal tables and having to yell is enjoyable for Pete Wells and a few millennials but I'd prefer to not have to stare at my neighbor and shout all night.

  45. @Elizabeth A Yes at some of these places with all hard surfaces I can hear every foot step, every plate, every fork moving around, every chair scooting. It's extremely distracting and makes me want to leave in the middle of a meal.

  46. Poor restaurant design---that is mostly to blame. The loudest restaurants seem to be the ones with all hard surfaces. Add noise-muffling wall/ceiling hangings, maybe carpet, etc. No one wants to dine in a silent tomb, but just those tweaks alone would make a huge difference (and avoid going during the after-work cocktail hour).

  47. @SLB Excellent point - a friend of mine is a architect and she is regularly pointing out restaurants and bars that are much quieter than their music and crowd size would suggest, simply because they are properly designed to reduce echo and noise propagation throughout the space. Noise levels are a function of: background noise, crowd noise, and architectural components of the space. The author seemingly ignores the last component entirely.

  48. Nice try, here, to defend noisy restaurants. I enjoy restaurants; meeting friends for a relaxing evening of food and conversation, trying dishes I know I cannot make at home. But the evening nearly always (9 out of 10 times) is reduced to a nerve-wracking annoyance because of one thing: the noise. I remember when I could go to a restaurant that had draperies, carpet, upholstered seating, and sometimes two layers of cloth tablecloths--all items that reduce noise. Nowadays I am forced to put up with concrete floors, no cloth of any kind to be found, hard plastic or wood chairs, wood or concrete dining surfaces, and a constant overwhelming background of dishes and flatware being tossed into dish bins, and even crashing to the floor (with hardly a raised eyebrow from noise-tolerant people who obviously thrive on chaos). And I have to pay for this privilege? No thank you. I rarely eat out because of the constant deafening noise levels; this just ruins a meal. when I do eat out, I have to brace myself for an ugly experience and put on a smile for the sake of my companions. Dinner at home is so much sweeter.

  49. I've dismissed many dates occurring at some restaurants because the noise level (primarily people attempting to talk over the music) is far too loud to hold a conversation. I've even crossed some places off my list simply because the music is so freaking loud. (Chipolte, I'm looking at you--turn down that music!)

  50. @MaryP I agree with your and other comments re restaurant noise problems. Just a side thought, though: If you're being taken to Chipotle by your date, you should dismiss both Chipotle AND your date!

  51. Several commenters report that restaurants in Paris are much quieter than they are in New York. I've found the Paris restaurant reviews and recommendations by the expat/retired Boston surgeon John Talbott to be very helpful. For the past several years, he has included a decibel measurement in each of his reviews. My impression is that popular restaurants in Paris are every bit as loud as those in NYC.

  52. I would add that it is no wonder (for me) restaurants in America might be noisier because stereotypically Americans love to scream when they mean to talk. Every time American tourists entering the subway in Berlin, it's like an outburst of disturbment, a tornado of language. Why are you screaming at each other? = )

  53. @tanzdrauf So true.

  54. @tanzdrauf Maybe because we've lost our hearing because of the noise in our restaurants.

  55. A room with hard surfaces reflects noise. Trendy hard walls, windows and floors combined with a towering ceiling bounce the voices back on the crowd. Restaurant design has changed radically. Exciting? In a bar more than a restaurant where most of us go for conversation this is often a formula for misery for many. "Having most of your hearing intact" makes it easy for you to navigate a 6 or 8 top behind or to the side of you with loud men or women's voices but if as generally happens age deals you some or a lot of hearing loss; how will you navigate? Anyone with hearing deficit is left missing most of the social/pleasant evenings' conversation. And if you think the most expensive hearing aids with special focus technology can combat high decibels? Think again. Who wants to grapple with what your party is discussing or find the evening exhausting because of the level of noise? Just because you find the view from the second story restaurant up those breathtaking stairs would you want to keep your friend in the wheelchair from joining you? Places that find ways to accommodate are more inclusive; some restaurants have alcoves, escalators and special menus but this noise level is really an area that needs more work. The world is aging; if we are lucky.

  56. I hate noisy restaurants, where one cannot hear the person across the table from you without their shouting too. As the older population expands, they (who have the most trouble with background noise) will choose to avoid these places. And remember, they have the money! Go boomer.

  57. To come away from dinner with a sore throat is not a pleasant dining experience. Not being able to hear your friend seated next to you is not a pleasant dining experience.

  58. Don’t get me going about the “music” in grocery stores too. Do we really need some tinny wail as theme music for picking up a package of frozen peas?Why do we need music wherever we go?

  59. @Geoffrey Blair Agreed. Quiet is a perfectly legitimate sound.

  60. @Geoffrey Blair Sometimes I have visited street fairs that advertised that a band would be playing at the event. Most of the time, the music is too loud. If I read now about a street fair, I won't go if they plan on having music. Why do I need to listen to loud music to "enjoy" the street fair?

  61. @Geoffrey Blair I share your frustration about "music" wherever we go. In one case, I complained about the loud, unpleasant music to the store manager at my favorite grocery store. He said I should just come and let him know when I was there, and he would have the sound turned way down. Now that's service!

  62. Worse than a slightly loud restaurant: tables that are too close together.

  63. I HATE loud music at restaurants. One goes out for the company as the food. Yelling at my seat mates is not the best way to connect. I say yes to including notes on the noise level if the music.

  64. @David Coffman The problem, David, is that the overwhelmingly young managers and servers have lost much of their hearing after years of listening to high decibel music all day. To them, it sounds fine. Actual conversation? No problem! I’m sure you’ve seen couples texting each other across the table.

  65. This long article goes on at length distorting the real issue and casting false blame. The real issue isn’t just “noise” it’s noise that is loud enough to make it hard to hear what our friends are saying and can even affect our voices by causing us in turn to speak too loudly so that we are heard. The false blame is to say we’re at fault. We aren’t. The fault is with poor acoustics (hard surfaces everywhere) and tables packed too close to each other. To dismiss this noise as something we want in a restaurant as social creatures is dismissive. Sure we want some noise, but not so much that it hurts. Instead acting like a sociologist I would ask you to be a responsive and responsible journalist.

  66. @Searching For A New Home In NYC it will be interesting to check in a few years the hearing of all the people who eat in restaurants where they have to shout to hear they friends.... since many of us go to eat out to spend time with friends and actually want to hear what they say, the restaurant industry is not doing itself many favors by making it an unpleasant experience.... One of our favorite restaurants in Vermont has shaggy carpet remnants attached to the underside of the tables.... we go there over and over again!

  67. @Baboo Gingi I learned on Friday that 32 years in the industry has damaged my hearing. So, yes- I live half in Berlin and half in San Francisco, and believe me, it is your fault. Few European diners, at least not the sober ones, speak more loudly in a restaurant than is necessary for their immediate companions to hear. If there is an American in the room,as a rule everyone knows. It is a question of manners and consideration. Americans are less likely to show it.

  68. @Searching For A New Home In NYC I agree that Mr. Wells seems almost derisive toward those of us who cannot tolerate stadium level decibels. His claim that this is antisocial or controlling is pure opinion through and through. Many feel the opposite: that enjoying a night out in society with it's surprise interactions and shared humanity is impossible when there is nonstop high decibel entertainment drowning out any possible interaction at or with nearby tables.

  69. I have had this conversation with numerous senior friends, many of us dealing with varying degrees of hearing loss, some not enough for hearing aids. We find noisy eateries to be ageist and we would like to take legal action against them. Thinking back over sometimes eight decades of eating out, none of us can recall such noisy places as we find today, as if they are deliberately designed to echo noise. And yes, you might say, we are remembering falsely; but some of us still have perfect hearing, and can recall all the kids in our kindergarten classes, and the conversation we had this morning on the phone with our grandchildren. Elders - it is time to rise up - in silence - and sue!!!

  70. @dark brown ink Maybe sue nightclubs and concert venues too? Or the subway or sporting events? Geesh.

  71. @dark brown ink -- yes, they are deliberately designed that way.

  72. I never go to a restaurant without my noise cancelling ear buds

  73. Adding my *ahem* "voice" to the rising chorus of those who find loud restaurants off-putting. For his part, Pete has every right to love such venues. I know a number of people who find noisy restaurant interiors to be "lively" and "fun." As for me, I'm put off by too much noise, plain and simple. Whenever I need to lean over to hear my companion speak, or ask that something said be repeated, is a [noise] tipping point. Then one of the key reasons for eating out--enjoying the company I'm with--is diminished, and so is the meal, which becomes something more labored. No need for that.

  74. "Having most of my hearing ability intact certainly helps my enjoyment." What a remarkably tone-deaf statement. Even a mild hearing loss, as suffered by tens of millions of people, is enough to make restaurant noise a major barrier to enjoying a dinner out. I remember when my parents chose a restaurant by its noise level; now I do it, too.

  75. @Someone else If Pete Wells continues to go to these loud restaurants every night his hearing won't be intact for long. Screaming in the ear of a dining companion to be heard will cause long term damage over time. Then Mr. Wells will undoubtedly feel differently about the energy and buzz of deafening restaurants.

  76. @Someone else : Thank you. I lost a good portion of my hearing in my mid-30s and I found this to be an offensive remark. It's like complaining about people wanting places to be accessible to with physical disabilities and then bragging that because you're able-bodied, those three flights of steep stairs don't impede your enjoyment of the place.

  77. First, loud noise in restaurants is a public health issue. People who work in loud environments day after day will suffer hearing loss, just as people who were forced to work in smoky bars and restaurants had increased risk for smoking related diseases. If you don't think hearing loss is a significant problem to live with, try wearing earplugs for a day. Loss of the ability to hear is a serious health problem. Second, sound volume can be reduced by proper acoustical engineering. When NYC was considering its smoking ban, people said that bars and restaurants would lose business. Didn't happen. Third, if you like to eat in a noisy environment that is harmful to your hearing health and prevents normal conversation, you can invite a crowd of your loudest friends over for dinner and blast the music. Just don't subject the rest of us to this dangerously unhealthy environment.

  78. @Glen Yes! All excellent points. If consumer pressure doesn't do it, I hope regulation will. Enough restaurants these days are loud enough to cause hearing damage, and it's staff exposure more than patrons' exposure that I worry about.

  79. No one should have to risk incremental hearing loss to dine with friends in a restaurant. No one should have to risk tinnitus from trying to talk over tables of loud-talkers (I have gotten it twice, for six months each time for this reason). No one should have the ability to be heard over physically stronger/louder voices impaired. Young people may not walk away from an incident of loud talk or music and notice hearing loss, and likely won't get long-term tinnitus from it. But the damage does accumulate, and they may lose their hearing earlier in life than they otherwise would. And tinnitus drives a person crazy! This is an issue of health and well-being, just like secondhand smoke. The pleasant noise of lovely, messy human life alluded to in the article is not the same as the meaningless stew of acoustic intensity most of us commenters seem to have experienced.

  80. A friend of mine and I recently ate in a tiny, middle-eastern restaurant in Bay Ridge. There were a few other diners who were eating the delicious food in appreciative silence. However, because there wasn't any music playing, you could hear the other diners eating. It was strangly intimate. Restaurants need some kind of ambient noise to mask our conversations and the sound of everyone chewing. They usually over-do it, however.

  81. YES YES YES. Part of going to a restaurant is having a FUN evening. Too many of the top restaurants with their tasting menus have become quiet temples. I much prefer a boisterous and fun restaurant. If i want a quiet evening then I can always cook at home.

  82. You find other people’s loud conversations your way of having FUN? This is living vicariously taken to an extreme.

  83. I certainly prefer busy restaurants, which adds to the overall ambiance of the experience and possibly suggests that the restaurant is very good. But not very loud restaurants that leave your voice hoarse after trying to make conversation for two hours.

  84. Restaurants aren't noisy because people are noisy. They are noisy (and much noisier than they used to be) because restaurant owners and designers decided to make them noisier and designed them that way. It's not hard to design a room with more sound absorbing surfaces where one might actually be able to eavesdrop on the neighbors or even talk to your own companions. NY restaurants used to do it, and Parisian ones still do. The restaurant noise app SoundPrint finds close to NO restaurants in Manhattan or downtown Brooklyn with decibel levels that would be legal in a workplace. They vary from "as loud as the subway" to much louder. Nor is it a matter of the market understanding what people want. Just as there were no bars that didn't reek of cigarettes before the ban, there are no quiet restaurants. An enormous segment of the restaurant customer population is simply not being served. There are a number of restaurants with excellent food to which I will never return because of the volume. For me, at least, it is supremely unpleasant to go out to dinner and have to yell to have a conversation or just give up and not be able to talk at all.

  85. @danielgr2 Restaurants are designed to be noisy for a simple reason. It makes diners want to leave and not ling over that second (unprofitable) cup of espresso. In short, turnover = profit.

  86. @Dave That, in most cases, is not true. Generally it is less expensive to design them that way, and owners go for the preferred optics. At some point OSHA will step in, especially now that hearing loss has shown to be linked to dementia, and force restaurants to control their noise levels with permit controls for design, fines and the means used to force smoking bans and ADA compliance. That will force some to go out of business. Good.

  87. @Dave It seems these noisy restaurants don't want patrons to return after they've been chased out by the noise. I've sworn off returning to my friend's favorite restaurant because of the noise. We go elsewhere when we go out to eat.

  88. Restaurant noise is offensive. And not very good for your hearing. I will leave any restaurant before being seated if it is noisy. And I won't be likely to ever darken its door again. I used to think that noisy restaurants was the way things were supposed to be. Then I lived in Germany for 3 years. There were never any loud restaurants, unless there were other Americans there.

  89. @A Good Lawyer I've found that the noise makers in French restaurants are typically Americans. Otherwise, restaurants in France are great for good food and good conversation.

  90. @A Good Lawyer Agreed: a crowded brasserie in Paris is not nearly so noisy as one in NYC. Even an old fashioned pub in London (ie with no amplified music at all) is quieter at peak pint than a dive bar in the US. Americans are just a lot louder, in general. But I also agrees with other commenters that it's the echoing, minimalist spaces that don't muffle sound, the clattering of crockery, the hiss and thump of espresso making, and more. It has all ratcheted up to be unbearable.

  91. A quick look at the Google finds 10-40 million Americans have some sort of hearing loss. I'm one of them. A noisy restaurant is anathema to me, as I can't hear my dining companions. I find that restaurants are accommodating if I ask for a quiet spot, but they should appreciate that I'm unlikely to return if my experience is a bad one. Your move, noisy restaurants. A restaurant critic is ignoring a significant chunk of their readers if (s)he ignores the issue of sound level. Obviously the food and its preparation is important; so is the opportunity to appreciate it and share the experience with your companions. If the place smelled bad or was very cold, I'm sure that would be noted - for many of us, noise level is of equivalent salience.

  92. Vote with your feet, not to mention your wallet. Restaurants will adjust to the will of the consumers. Some quiet, some not. Everyone goes home happy!

  93. To each their own. Personally, I find no pleasure in eating at a restaurant where I need to practically shout to carry on a conversation with my dining companions.

  94. There is convivial noise and there is offensive noise. Many restaurants play very loud music in an effort to create an 'atmosphere' in an effort to create an identity. I love the hubub (punctuated by laughter and pithy remarks) of people eating, drinking and enjoying themselves. I really don't like ending up hoarse after having dinner with friends. I have observed restaurant employees crank up the music over the course of an evening, and I never return to that restaurant. There are many wonderful restaurants that don't feel the need to curate their own soundtrack and the diners make a wonderful noise enjoying their food and companions. Nowadays my philosophy is if the restaurant has to be that loud, what is wrong with the food?

  95. Noise seems to be a requirement of life now. As if we can't hold interesting conversations, or dare not be alone with our thoughts.

  96. I'm fine with noice, music, and other people's chatter. There are restaurants I go to in New York for the ambiance that this all creates, meanwhile the food may be mediocre. However, I don't appreciate when a restaurant doesn't take any of these things into consideration. It shows little thought of the diner experience. If there's concrete walls and ceiling and little done to dampen the noise that is poor planning. Or more frequently, a music playlist that is at odds with a restaurant: hard rock n' roll at a latin restaurant or some other seemingly odd juxtaposition. Is the waiter picking his Spotify playlist? Equally irritating at times are restaurants that have no music or sound where background music would be appropriate. I must say I feel like I'm eating in a library. Though I wouldn't want to hear Thievery Corporation at Per Se, they would make a good background music at a casual, hip Lebanese restaurant rather than just silence.

  97. Face it the louder the restaurant is the quicker the diners leave. Turning the tables multiple times in an evening can make the difference between a restaurant thrives or dies. If you want to eat in peace with your friends do your own cooking. Not eating out can afford you the luxury of being able to buy every cookbook that peaks any interest.

  98. I think Pete Wells missed the point about noise, likely because he spends his time dining in trendy places in SoHo and not along, say, Dyckman Street. When people talk about noise, they are often talking about the pounding, ear-shattering music that "fauxstaraunts" play in order to imitate nightclubs -- which they are otherwise prevented from being due to zoning. This workaround of the DJ blasting from the corner laptop isn't about the crowd itself being noisy -- the music is often playing to an empty room -- as much as it is about trying to attract patrons to hang out in your establishment as a club and not a place to eat. People who do mistakenly try to eat there then find themselves unable to talk or enjoy their meal because of the outrageous volume. NYC needs to update its ancient zoning laws as pertains to music (there is a fascinating history about the jazz trio being created by zoning ordinances) and then crack down on fake restaurants that violate noise codes and blast noise that goes far above and beyond a lively restaurant.

  99. It’s pretty simple, really. If you can’t hear the person at the table with you in normal conversation the restaurant is too loud. It doesn’t need to be whisper quiet like a funeral service, but we don’t need studio 54 either.

  100. "Restaurants are loud because we’re loud." Sorry, no. I am not loud in restaurants, and my wife is not loud. But other people are loud, partly due to their upbringings and personalities, and partly due to their drinks. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but I am personally put off by it. A good review is informative - I don't need to agree with the reviewer, I just have to have confidence that I understand what my experience will most likely be like. I've never read a Tom Sietsema restaurant review, but it sounds to me like his approach of including noise-related information in his reviews is to be emulated by anyone who actually cares about their readers.

  101. I notice you didn’t mention your age. I’m 60. And when I go out, I want to enjoy myself, not succumb to a headache or stress brought on by meaningless NOISE. If we walk into any Restaurant and cannot hear each other speak in a “ normal “ conversational volume a couple of feet away, we leave. Why should we pay for the displeasure of shouting at one another, that can be done at home. No, I’m not expecting a Library. But I don’t want a Nightclub, either. Leave that for the Kids. Been there, done that. Seriously.

  102. @Phyliss Dalmatian Thank you, sums it up. In the last several years the old-style restaurants are disappearing, places where we could have a good dinner before the show, where the conversation could take center stage, and where you left wanting to come back. Now I can't trust restaurant recommendations because they too often turn out to be the kind of place I can't wait to leave. Disposable cash encounters hostile environment: am I missing something?

  103. @Phyliss Dalmatian Pet Wells entered University of Pennsylvania in 1981 so he is not young.

  104. @Iolaire McFadden Pete Wells is 56, according to The New Yorker. My hearing was much better when I was 56. Just ask my ENT specialist.

  105. The writer notes that he has "most of his hearing intact". Does he not know that the best way to lose that hearing is to repeatedly expose himself to loud noise?

  106. I had dinner a while back with a large group. On leaving, I asked a friend, seated next to me, how she liked the person across the table with whom she'd been speaking. "Oh! He's delightful!" she replied. I said that I didn't know her French was so good, and she said that she spoke not a word. When I mentioned that the person she'd been conversing with spoke about that much English, she looked perplexed, and then burst out laughing. Yes, Bon Apetit! by all means, et bonne conversation aussi!

  107. Noise is great—a great way to acquire tinnitus and/or hyperaccusis. Neither of which can be cured.

  108. You say what "makes a sound into noise is subjective". So because it doesn't bother you, we should get over it? Would you say the same about second hand smoke - it's subjective? I've been to restaurants in which I could not hear the server's words. It's bad enough when I can't hear my fellow diner's words but now I must put up with not hearing the server or sommelier's words? Also, it seems that the NYC Health Dept. would disagree with you: "[B]etween work, school, home, and outings to restaurants or entertainment venues, we spend most our life indoors - that is why a having a healthy indoor environment is vital for the population’s well being. Typically, indoor air pollutants such as secondhand smoke, carbon monoxide, radon, and lead top the list of toxins linked to numerous ailments. Other less common culprits can be just as troublesome such as noise and poor workstation ergonomics. As the effects of harmful indoor environments come under wider scrutiny, observers are also realizing that a healthy indoor depends on more than just cleaning up the air."

  109. This is the worst defense or excuse for restaurant noise if I've ever heard one. No one is arguing for silence. Yes noise is expected, but noise that's so loud, where you have to scream across to your dining companion inches away to compete with the wannabe DJ blasting their music, this is not okay (looking at you 'Wayan', I won't be returning any time soon). Hearing loss and tinnitus is no joke, it's getting worse with today's noise levels. Check out NPR's Hearing In A Deafening World fresh air episode. Human ears were not meant to be subjected to so many hours of loud noise. New Yorkers are especially more likely to be subjected to hours of noise resulting in permanent hearing damage (Subways, riders inconsiderately playing their games/videos out loud, obnoxious car honking, truck loaders dropping heavy metal ramps on the pavement without warning). Restaurant reviews should include the decibel level, time and day of week. Restaurants willing to invest in noise reduction, not pack diners in like sardines in a can or crank up the music volume to make it into a club, will get my business.

  110. @Natalie I cannot agree more about restaurants needing to invest in noise reduction. A couple of summers ago, my partner and I ate dinner at a Cape Cod venue recommended by the owner of the B&B where we were staying. Indeed, the food was excellent but even more surprising--it wasn't noisy. Amazing. Then I looked up and saw that the space had baffling (sound absorbing material) on the ceiling. When I decided to review this venue on Trip Advisor, I particularly noted the sound reduction effort, and the owner thanked me on the website. Sadly, when we returned this past summer, that section of the restaurant had been turned into a party room, with only a couple of smaller tables for non-partygoers like us. Lots of loud drinking and loud voices. I looked up...gone was the baffling material from the ceiling, clearly the owner's conscious choice. Of course, we won't be going back there.

  111. Also, the louder the noise and “ music “ the faster you will Eat, Pay and Leave. It’s ALL about Table turnover. Seriously.

  112. @Phyliss Dalmatian Then why bother with tables? Just give "diners" a sliding tray, a la any cafeteria, set up on a winding track (as in a Disneyland ride queue) for a continuous "tray ride" as you eat, just fast enough to finish before the tray drops off into the "finished" receptacle at the end, right by the exit door. THANK YOU!

  113. @Phyliss Dalmatian - Not sure why I would want tables to leave if they are ordering $200 bottles of wine. Please, sit, enjoy! You make a lot more off the alcohol than the food so let them sit and drink.

  114. @Slann Excellent. And NO Menus. You eat what they put on your tray, no substitutions, no complaining.

  115. I thought it was fairly well known that restaurant marketing and business consultants advise restaurant owners to aim for a fairly high noise level to stimulate sales of one class of very profitable items: alcoholic beverages. When the noise level is too high to permit comfortable conversation between diners, they deal with the awkwardness of being together but not able to converse easily by ordering more liquor, according to restaurant marketing 101. In my view, having a fun evening doesn't require a high volume of random social noise. It doesn't require library reading-room silence, either. There are many fine restaurants that seem to strike a good balance, incorporating design elements that both create a pleasing appearance and dampen the sound from conversations taking place far away. There are also restaurants that ignore the interests of patrons who may want to converse. Now that I know restaurant reviewer Pete Wells likes a high noise level encouraged by marketing consultants to pump up sales of liquor, and that he thinks it's ok to ignore other preferences, it will be easier for me to ignore his restaurant reviews completely. It shouldn't be hard to find other reviewers who focus more closely on the quality of the food and on restaurant ambiance. I'm not trying to convert anyone to my way of thinking, by the way. But a reviewer who seems to think that only his tastes are valid is not a very helpful reviewer.

  116. @Pro-public safety I couldn't agree more; I wouldn't even read his review.

  117. So far, you are the only commenter that recognizes the strategic design of volume levels used to increase alcohol sales, and to reduce table turn time-after a while audio fatigue makes you simply tired and wanting to leave the restaurant.

  118. Best comment in a group of very good ones

  119. It doesn't really matter if Pete Wells like noise or not, its a great service to the readers to include a sound measure. Its part of the experience and different people will use the information differently. Sort of like if a bar has a good mocktail program, a reporter might mention that even if the reporter is a heavy drinker. Or they might mention a restaurant is family friendly even if they don't dine with children. Its just good information to have.

  120. "almost all of us want to loosen the knots of tension that daily life ties" I love that sentence; thank you for it.

  121. @Violet But being in a loud and frenetic place only tightens those knots.

  122. Barbarism. If I try to be fair, I'll have to recognize that there are people who do enjoy noisy places. But I think it's reasonable to ask that a restaurant critic comment on the noise level. There are many of us who find the ambient noise challenging. For me, it is in part due to difficulty following a conversation and in part mere preference.

  123. I am not going to sit under a speaker with noise blasting over my head and pretend I’m enjoying the experience, especially with people around me yelling to be heard over the noise. I can’t taste the food because all I’m thinking about is how soon I can leave. I’d rather eat peanut butter and jelly at home. Who decided that noise enhances the restaurant experience? I assume it’s all about turning tables. If so, it’s a wild success.

  124. There are 48 million Americans with some level of hearing loss. A quieter environment is necessary to be able to adequately communicate. 'Nuff said.

  125. @AGJ - I would argue that it is higher than that. Most males over the age of 30 have already lost a few thousand hertz off of the top range. When I studied recording engineering they constantly stressed protecting your hearing. One teacher made quite a deal out of how at age 50+, he could still hear 15,000Hz (humans hear up to 20-22,000). None of the big name recording engineers can still hear the entire range. They are all grey haired and lucky if they still hear 13,000Hz.

  126. A common reason for the noise in restaurants newly constructed or refurbished is the lack of proper insulation and high uninsulated ceilings. This type of cheap construction is the strong opening death knell for loss of my future patronage. Woe to the patron who is seated beneath an overly loud or tinny speaker. Regardless of excellent food quality, a restaurant that is so noisy that you must scream over the din to be heard by your dining companions is not one that I will patronize.

  127. @Leslie Dee I bring silicone earplugs everywhere, and they have saved me multiple times from the literal pain of loud tinny speakers in restaurants and other venues. But even though I have earplugs, it's baffling and irritating that I need them.

  128. Someone should create a no-talking restaurant, where diners are not allowed to talk to each other. They can only text each other, use hand gestures, or maybe whisper. Perhaps whispering is reserved for "happy hour." Another idea would be a restaurant where all diners are issued headsets and microphones so that they can tune in to the diners at their table, while tuning out everybody else. Of course, the waiter would have a special headset so that he or she could tune in to a given table to take the order -- or tune in to whichever table was having the most interesting conversation...

  129. @Dan Frazier - Using your phone/headset idea, each table could have its own music. No need for the mics though because everyone is just going to stare at their phones all through dinner.

  130. A critic suggesting we create an authoritarian state to solve their inconveniences... that is the crime.

  131. I love going out to eat and trying new restaurants with my parents when I see them-one to two times a year. My time with them feels precious now that they are in their 80s. I try to find restaurants that aren’t loud because I thoroughly enjoy talking with my parents, however it’s becoming more and more difficult to find adequately quiet restaurants. There’s nothing sadder to me than to have a great meal, but not be able to have great conversations with my parents because they simply can’t hear well enough to do so. I would love for restaurant reviews to include accurate noise levels.

  132. I share this problem. I can’t find places where I can take my parents, which makes it very hard to share time together other than in our own homes. Restaurants are neutral territory when our homes may be contested spaces that invite critique. I would love someone to start a chain called “nice place to take people with hearing aids”

  133. @Deborah I wear hearing aids and had a horrendous painful expensive Thanksgiving lunch at Nougatine, in pain from the noise, with an increase in tinnitus after I left. I never experienced that there before, it has always been a delightful place. I would love to see that chain that you suggest, so other hearing aid wearers could be warned. It would be good to aim at hearing aid wearers so as not to discourage people with normal hearing who might not mind the noise.

  134. @Deborah I whole heartedly agree with you about restaurants being “neural territories”. That’s a big reason I go out to dinner with my parents when they visit. It’s a bonus if we can have a great meal and conversation as well.

  135. Research has indicated more noise will result in faster table turnover. I have to agree. Can't wait to get out of a room sized boombox. My personal observation is faster service will result in faster turnover. People who like the 'buzz' seem more interested in their cell phones than talking with their companions. Difficult to have a discussion at full volume. Put me in the no noise column.

  136. Going to a restaurant to enjoy a couple of hours of shouting and blaring music is I guess like going to a movie so you can enjoy nachos and popcorn. This makes the critic less trustworthy regarding the food. If I know he prefers loud restaurants, how do I know that doesn't bleed over to his review of the food? At least the decibel-measuring critic reveals his bias. I can imagine the reciprocal movie review : "The acting was mediocre but I loved the atmosphere the aroma of melting cheese provided, so I'll cut the film a break." :)

  137. Just wait until you lose a good part of your hearing in loud restaurants and then get back to those of us who either have hearing loss or have friends and partners who do. You may love being hurried through your meal by the noise but most of those over 30 and those of us who are actually paying for our own meals don’t really prefer frenetic meals. This doesn’t mean that we want meals that are served in a morgue. It does mean that concrete floors and walls and ceilings are not the optimum environment for dining.

  138. I don’t care what the “experts” say: if restaurant owner’s think ambience (aka noise) is somehow exciting or cool, that’s fine. As for me, I studiously avoid any restaurant with an ambience level that is consistently over 85db.

  139. Incidentally, there are more hi tech solutions for creating just the right ambience levels: Meyer Sound in Berkeley CA, a company that is best known for manufacturing high end studio monitors, is also producing systems for restaurants that cancel out unwanted noise. The result is everyone gets to hear thro conversations without feeling they’re in a morgue.

  140. There is a fine line, impossible to know until you cross it, where the volume of sound at a restaurant, or band at a wedding, goes from adding energy to the room to becoming difficult to hold a conversation. I suggest that if we knew that restauranteurs were aware of this line and took even minimal steps to mitigate it we might all be a bit more chill about it.

  141. I prefer a lively restaurant so I get Pete's argument. At the same time, I've been to a few where my dining companions and I had to shout to hear each other, and in a couple of cases I often couldn't make out what they were saying. In one case, where there was an amplified piano bar in the restaurant, I could barely hear the sound of my friends' voices, much less understand them. I have no desire to go back to those places.

  142. @Jack I would have walked out

  143. critics are rarely paid to evaluate less expensive or cheap places. Their snide "bon apetit" (s) should be taken in that context. As for the decibel issue.....we can pick and choose...and inform. Yes, do get out more...

  144. It’s misplaced generosity to imagine that restaurant owners and designers simply haven’t considered the “drapery and carpet” solution. As a few others have noted, the guilty parties *have* thought carefully about noise levels, and they want them high. It’s likewise mistaken to think that most patrons at the popular places would prefer less noise and more conversation: the patrons the restaurants want like to be at lively, happening places, social qualities they think go with animated (that is, very loud) talk. They like to talk loudly, but they don’t care for conversation. The comments here skew decidedly toward wanting less noise, but the popular restaurants don’t care about people who want less noise, and their patrons actually intend to inflict their loud and witty bombast on you. Now we know that at least one restaurant reviewer feels the same way.

  145. When restaurants routinely approach the noise level of a Yankees-Red Sox game in the 7th inning, I'm out. Any restaurant, where either my companions or myself need to bellow in order to be heard, is not worth a penny of my money. I'll pass on virtually any food experience that compels me to use stage vocal projection training at a table for 6. Mr. Wells may need to bellow and hear a medium background roar to feel alive. I prefer the ability to speak and to hear the conversation at my table unimpeded. If it's volume I desire, there are plenty of music clubs that would be happy to help. Or the aforementioned Yankees game.

  146. But have restaurants decided that noise is evidence of their success and consciously designed them to be louder? I don’t mind some noise of background conversation and music in restaurants, but I dislike not being able to hear or to be heard by my dining companions. I do think there is a noise problem that is new and that’s been created by all of the hard surfaces that are currently in vogue in dining spaces. Every so often, I’ll notice that a formerly too loud space is suddenly just pleasantly humming and grooving. I’ll look around and see that they have installed noise reducing tiles or other materials designed to absorb some of the din. It’s always a welcome relief.

  147. Both ends of the restaurant auditory spectrum can be uncomfortable for me. A restaurant so quiet that you can hear people scraping their cutlery across their plates and be unwitting party to others’ private conversations is not enjoyable. A restaurant where you must essentially yell across the table to have any sort of communication with your dinner mate(s) is also not enjoyable. For me, a good restaurant has a bustling but not frenetic level of activity. Tables and chairs spaced such that people are not elbowing each other or having to joust chairs to can get up and sit back down at their table. Music should be audible but played at a pleasant background volume, that allows patrons to hear the wait staff and each other easily. It should be part of the auditory fabric of the experience without dominating it. And then there are acoustical design considerations. Restaurant designers need to factor in some sound attenuation measures so that the cacophony of sounds in a busy restaurant does not deafen its patrons. I am looking at you Nobu in London! Stellar cuisine ruined by a hardscape of tiled floors, hard surfaces on chairs, tables, walls, ceiling, windows. Nothing to absorb the sound which was so loud and cacophonous that it ruined what should have been a very fine dining experience.

  148. @Judith G you've got it: a friendly, cheery buzz, not a buzz saw. The feeling and sounds of a good party, not an assembly line ( I have tinnitis and total silence is a separate challenge now)

  149. "From time to time, all of us want a dining room where we can speak and be heard without resorting to pantomimes." Wow, I'm at a total loss to think of even one time in the past 50 years where I would have preferred the "pantomime" option. I do/will not return to a restaurant where I had to yell to be heard or need an "ear trumpet" to hear my companions. Not if I can help it, anyway. Hmm, maybe I'm now a minority that actually cares what others say/opine and am not satisfied just living in my own echo chamber? Seems like perhaps the crux of the difference. Aside from the occasional "obligation event" (or otherwise no-choice) meal, why even dine with someone if you don't want to hear them? I don't grok that at all. Also, noise typically causes stress (proportional to what one is used to I suppose), and stress is pretty much terrible for digestion (and some would argue enjoyment, though of course some people seem to thrive on stress).

  150. A local restaurateur proffered an explanation why loudness is part of the dining-out experience: a noisy environment suggests excitement, excitement brings in patrons, and then the noise gets them out quickly. It's all about turnover, baby.

  151. @Steve What that restaurateur does not understand is that many people will not eat in loud places in the first place. Because they aren’t currently his customers, he doesn’t know what business he is missing and he doesn’t listen to them. Big mistake.

  152. Nothing but a tempest in a teapot. A restaurateur can set any noise level as pleases him in his establishment. If you want to patronize one such, but are bothered by noise, equip yourself with sound-proof ear muffs.

  153. I think this is almost entirely a function of age. When my mother moved to New York about fifteen years ago she refused to eat in most of the restaurants I tried to take her to, because they were too noisy. I tried to be patient, but felt that sometimes she was exaggerating -- some of them didn't seem that loud to me. Now she's gone, and I'm 68, and I hate loud restaurants, exactly as she did, and for the same reasons. It's jarring, and not conducive to relaxation, and it's really hard to hear your tablemates talk. When I was young, no problem. Now -- problem. I remember a restaurant in Tribeca in the early 80s, Exile, which I liked because the tables were well-spaced and the noise level low. I knew immediately when I walked in the first time that it was doomed, and indeed it was shortly replaced by a fashionable LA-based restaurant, with twice the number of tables, and three times the sound level. Big success. Mr Wells is right -- a lot of people love the noise. Just not me, and my ancient cohort.

  154. @AW - perhaps it is age for some but when my friends and I were younger we still did not like crazy loud/can't hear each other noise in a restaurant or bar.

  155. I think your absolutely right. I’m betting if we averaged the ages of the people here complaining about restaurant noise levels, it would be well over 50.

  156. @Bunnifer I'm 41 and get stressed out by too much noise. A friend of mine who's 35 has tinnitus and tries to avoid loud places. Another friend who's 45 has hearing aids (to modify congenital condition) and has difficultly conversing in overly-noisy environments. I absolutely agree with all the folks complaining about restaurant noise levels -- it's not just an age thing.

  157. Have you considered the possibility that our restaurants are loud because Americans are loud? If you to restaurants in Paris, let’s say, diners tend to keep their voices down so that their conversations remain private.

  158. @Michael D Another reason dining in Paris is infinitely better than dining in New York.

  159. When we subscribed to a major Bay Area newspaper their reviews contained a noise rating that consisted of a number of bells. I believe it was one to four and then included a bomb for the loudest. I found that worked very well. There is no need for a precise decibel number, just a general idea of loudness. When a restaurant is all hard surfaces and people must raise their voices to talk, they raise the noise level even more. I remember eating in an upscale Mexican restaurant in Berkeley that had worked with sound engineers and the noise level was perfect. There was a nice buzz but it was easy to carry on a conversation.

  160. @Joan M If I go to a restaurant that is too loud, I'll write an online review that includes that information, including the dB level from the SoundPrint app. I wear hearing aids but mostly to compensate for a "notch" hearing loss that makes it hard to discriminate consonants in normal conversational settings: when I go to restaurants or to movies I take noise-reducing earplugs instead. Another issue is the aural health of restaurant employees. At the last really loud place I dined at, our waiter said he thought he was losing some hearing himself.

  161. It’s not the talking, it’s the screaming laughter, the volume of which is in direct proportion to the alcohol consumed. I’m not judging drinking—it’s a part of my day—but I do judge those whose inability to use their indoor voices is compromised.

  162. This article in defense of noisy restaurants is way too long so he must think his case is weak. I couldn't read it all just like I don't have the patience to sit in a restaurant that I can't even hear myself talk.

  163. Good article, and I appreciate Mr. Well's point of view o restaurant noise having a good side as well as a bad one. Now that I'm of a certain (definitely more grumpy) age, I find myself wanting to dine out in restaurants less and less. I find that my favorite experiences now tend to be in places with outdoor settings, like beer gardens. Whether packed or nearly empty, without the trendy hard surfaces and booming sound systems of most places that have been the norm for the last couple of decades, the sound level seems to balance on its own. Loud celebratory tables seem to add to the ambiance and so do kids playing around the tables. Yet my friends and I can chat instead of shout. As some commentators have pointed out here, European restaurants seem to have much more civilized sound levels, conducive to appreciating food and conversation. That's because they're filled with Europeans. We're Americans, we get the restaurants that we deserve.

  164. Like other commenters, I also appreciate the loudness rating Tom Sietsma provides in our local newspaper. It will often help me decide where I am going to dine. It's fine to have a buzz in a restaurant, but too many of them have become unbearable and I especially worry about the employees who are subjected to it.

  165. The problem is too many of the loud, boisterous patrons never learned the difference between an “indoor” and “outdoor” voice during their younger ears. Plus too many of them just love to hear themselves talk.

  166. Much of what you say is valid, but the statement that the noise in restaurants is not amplified is incorrect. Restaurants in the past used to have more carpeting, more wood, and other built in furnishings which naturally dampened the noise. Most restaurants today go out of their way to NOT have those kinds of furnishings and decor. And so the noise is actually amplified. They seem to feel that the louder noise give the restaurant a “buzz”. It’s as if they’re trying to say, “This must be a great place, with lots of interesting conversations, because it’s so noisy!”

  167. @nyker That is an excellent point, and another vote in favor of traditional booth dining at American establishments. Is there anything cozier than wood paneling and vinyl bench seating?

  168. It is worth noting that one aspect of a materialistic society is fear of the immaterial. Quiet and especially silence obviously fit this description. Most restaurants and many of their customers, like Pete Wells, seem to be dominated by this fear. How can we surprised that those of us who aren't are choosing more and more to eat at home?

  169. Pete writes ...”Having most of my hearing ability intact certainly helps my enjoyment; if I had more trouble conversing over the shrimp cocktail each night, I would probably have a different attitude. What I can bring to this topic, though, is a near-nightly experience of restaurants as registered by all five senses.” One of the five senses IS HEARING. We eat with our ears as well. My husband has hearing aides, but still struggles to hear in a too noisy restaurant, if it is from loud music, or poor design. Also, restaurants, do something about your font size on the menu and give us proper lighting so we can see selections and prices.

  170. As a long time recording engineer, I'm very conscious of how different environments affect how we hear. Many restaurants have poor acoustics so the sound builds up. Also as we get older, most of us have trouble picking out a specific voice in a sea of other voices especially with the addition of intrusive background music even though our hearing may be pretty good. Given these realities, it does get very difficult for older people to be comfortable eating in a lot of restaurants today.

  171. So, Mr. Wells, you are saying to the portion of the eating-out public with hearing issues, "the heck with you?" I must say I am quite disappointed to read that you are in favor of this scourge. For a couple of decades now I have been hoping in vain that restaurants will get over their belief that hard, reflective surfaces and loud music make a "lively" and inviting ambiance. For many, they do not. I believe that restaurants actively seek younger patrons, and that's fine. But to do that by driving away the older ones seems cruel and unfair.

  172. I'm all for leaving rap, EDM and anything metal to the clubs. For me, nothing is better than a plate of linguine with white clam sauce and a glass or two of white burgundy. The other aspect of dining is the eavesdropping and people watching. How a person eats says a lot about who they are. Body language exposes relationships. And then, if you're lucky, a woman will faint at the table next to yours and the man will offer you the two tickets to the night's performance they obviously won't be attending. That's happened twice. That's how I saw "Phantom of the Opera." Any way you look at it, it's dinner and a show.

  173. It's the music, and it permeates other things, including sports. I think our society runs on caffeine and adrenaline, and it's not improving things. There's a song by Alanid Morrisette where she's haranguing someone and suddenly there's silence, followed by her asking if the person was freaked out by it. Yes, there are plenty of other noises and you're right, if you can't tolerate the noise of people working and such, and conversations, nothing really can be done. But restaurants don't have to exacerbate the problem. Music at some volume is a reasonable volume is a good buffer. But if you're not sitting at or right near the bar, if you go to the staff and say you can't hear your companion unless they yell, they should turn it down. I love music, go to loud concerts, and perform it. But music that you don't want to hear at earsplitting volumes is punishment. Most people I know go to restaurants to be with friends and relatives as well as to enjoy the food.

  174. @Carl Yes. I'd estimate 85% of the time, a too-loud restaurant is too loud because of its cranked-up music. (The other 15% can be chalked up to crowds plus bad acoustics.)

  175. Thank you, Mr. Wells. It strikes me that people don’t live in cities for the quiet. They live there for the life, for the vibrancy that cities embody. While I do not care for noise levels set to turn tables (as one waiter in Boston once explained to our table), I agree that to eat out is to choose to eat among others. It is an act of community. We have plenty of other ways to be alone in the crowd.

  176. Ball 1. In an effort to be just provocative enough, Mr Wells simplified the issues involved. It's not just "hard of hearing" issues: it's sensory overload issues that impact auditory processing, which is different. It's not just the sound of people, but the *amplified* music (or other amplified media) that covers a wide range of Hertz, in acoustical settings formerly more common in industrial settings.

  177. Beautifully and simply stated. Not even at home is a quiet dinner the same flavor as an interesting balance of chewing and arguing.

  178. Mr. Wells, Thank you for your thoughts on this. For anyone that uses a hear aid, the noise levels are excruciating. All the people using ear buds will soon be in that boat, too...so there's that. I love to eat out, I simply will not endanger my conversation, and my hearing at ugly-loud establishments. cheers-

  179. Nonsense. If the volume of restaurants were an inevitable by-product of people eating and restaurants going about their business, then NYC restaurants would be no louder than restaurants abroad or than restaurants here used to be not so long ago. And yet, that is most certainly not the case. Whether this is the result of design trends, table density, music choice, or an ill-advised desire by restauranteurs to cultivate the atmosphere of a college dorm basement, I leave it to you, the critic, to figure out. But restaurants that don't play any music at all (imagine that!) and where conversation at a table of four or even six is possible (imagine that!) are the norm in many cities. Not in NYC. I've dined here at restaurants--several highly reviewed by you (eg Estela)--where the server has had to lean over me to hear my order and where my otherwise placid conversation with the person across the table has consisted of yelling. I've been at others (eg O Ya) where the music choice and volume has left unclear whether I'm supposed to eat my food or get up on my table and dance. It may be that as a critic you're so concerned with the content of your plate that you regard the possibility of dinner conversation as entirely superfluous. If so, then you're lucky that the hearing loss you risk as an occupational hazard won't impair your future enjoyment of NYC dining. To judge by your reader comments, however, many don't seem to share your insouciance.

  180. I, too,like noisy restaurants . otherwise it's like the quiet car on Amtrak. They have a separate dining car.

  181. I once had a Chairman who used restaurant noise as a tool. If an applicant for a job was liked, we went to a quiet restaurant so we could continue to talk. If the applicant didn't excite him so much, he'd suggest going to a large, noisy (but fun), Mexican restaurant. We knew his feeling about the applicant as soon as he announced where we'd have dinner.

  182. "Having most of my hearing ability intact certainly helps my enjoyment; if I had more trouble conversing over the shrimp cocktail each night, I would probably have a different attitude." I actually can hear the proverbial pin drop; my hearing is great. In some restaurants, not that I eat out that often, I can't hear what my friends are saying because the music is too loud or the party at the next table haven't learned to speak below a roar. Eh.

  183. I wouldn't be bothered as much by music in restaurants if it was live, or at a reasonable volume, or if the applicable ASCAP fees are paid. Mostly, it's none of the above. Remember, too, that it's only in the last 150 years or so that music on demand that people didn't make themselves (or command someone to do it on their behalf) has been a thing. Mostly, we were quiet.

  184. This shouldn't require more than one visit. Some restaurants targets diners who want conversations with their meals. Other restaurants want patrons who enjoy a loud atmosphere. Some folks want to dress for dinners. Others like casual. Take your choice. There are plenty of options for all. And critics should mention in their reviews the ambiance. It helps us choose!

  185. @Donna Gray But there aren't plenty of options. The elegant, sophisticated restaurants in my area are all closing and being replaced by loud, casual ones. A few weeks ago, a friend and I walked out of an almost-empty restaurant that was blaring such loud music we couldn't hear each other, and the waiter declined to turn the volume down.

  186. @KRB _ In Boston? I am astonished! In my rural area (500 sq mile county of 33,000) we commonly drive 25 minutes to eat out and we find options.

  187. @Donna Gray I'm on my way to visit Virginia!

  188. To me, the perfect balance is a restaurant where I can hear my dining companions, but other diners can't hear us, mostly because they can hear their dining companions, too. Part of it is acoustics -- high ceilings, less fabric. Part of it is the background sound mix of the restaurant -- the music, the kitchen, tables being set and cleared, etc. But I think a lot of it, especially in cities like NY, where real estate is expensive, is that the restaurants are too crowded. Not enough room between the tables. Too many people jammed into the space to get better. This is a big part of the reason that even when we eat "out" - it's usually take out, not a "dining experience."

  189. Did anyone see the American Heart Association study a few years back that showed a link between heart disease/stroke and noise? And they weren't talking about 83 decibels (hearing loss), they were talking about 45 decibels. It's your stroke, Mr. Wells, not mine. I feel sorry for anyone working in those restaurants.

  190. I spent 15 weeks last year traveling in over a dozen countries on four continents, pretty much eating out 3 times a day and I will report that restaurant noise levels around the world generally do not approach those of NYC or Washington DC. Perhaps "Auto-Tune and deep fakes " have overtaken the rest of the planet. The main cause of volume levels in restaurants is unintended, bad design either "fashion over function" (goes with the pretty chairs that are uncomfortable) or intended to give the place a hip vibe. I just assume that the management puts as much thought into the food as they do the ambiance.

  191. Excellent point! I can’t think of a single restaurant where I ate in Asia or Europe where I had to shout at my dining companions, or put my ear to their mouths, to carry on a conversation. This must be some American, perhaps even coastal conceit that noise is directly proportional to the excellence of the dining experience.

  192. The restaurant reviews in the Washington Post include ratings for noisiness as well as the more typical ratings for quality and price. I LOVE those noisiness ratings! Sometimes I want to go out for a raucous good time. Other times I want to be able to speak more seriously with my dining companions. How noisy a restaurant should be is a matter of taste. It would be super if every restaurant critic across the country added noisiness ratings so that we eaters could have a sense of where to eat on any particular occasion.

  193. As I've gotten older, my hearing is less acute, even though I don't need hearing aids. I've walked out of restaurants before sitting down when the music/noise level was "too high" for me. I want to be able to talk to my companion[s] (or the waitstaff) without shouting and to hear my companion[s] (or the waitstaff) without straining.

  194. A fine, thoughtful article, Mr. Wells. I don't care if other people can't hear what you're saying.

  195. Pretty prose, Pete. Also pedantic and pointless. Your attempt to teach once and for all the complaint-laden faction of your readers that Noise is O.K. (because it is actually Ambience, which is Good) fails to address the issue. In fact, Loudness is the word needed to replace much of this ill-directed and poorly consulted piece. I enjoy LOUD restaurants just as I do quiet ones. They provide different experiences, both valuable. The ability to create a restaurant environment that is perceived as loud (or rowdy, ruckus boisterous, etc) without actually damaging the ears of patrons or staff is done through acoustical treatment. It is the responsibility of the restaurant operator, just like sanitized utensils and transparent menu pricing, to provide an sonic experience that does not harm their customer.  Pete, just so you aren't flapping in the wind again next time this issue comes up (as it will continue to do so until ordinances are improved and enforced), I'd recommend seeing an Audiologist and getting a sonogram done for yourself. You're a young guy yet, but with your choosen profession I can almost guarantee your results will look closer to an average man 10 years older than you. Restaurants engage all 5 senses, after all...

  196. My suggestion to Mr. Wells is that when he eats out, he should bring along a set of headphones--not to block out noise, but to feed himself any kind of noise he wants on that evening. That way he can have what he wants without anyone else (myself included) being bothered by it.

  197. Even worse than loud restaurants is loud bars. They blast the music at an incredible high volume. There is little wonder as to why. Loud music keeps people awake, drinking, and spending money. If the noise level were lower, people would realize that they were tired and go home, leading to reduced revenue.

  198. I am an old guy. I like quiet restaurants. My impression is young people prefer noise. more power to them. Noisy restaurants are full of energy and more fun. Sometimes I even am in the mood for noise. If not there are plenty of quiet restaurants. C’est la vie.

  199. @Alexander Rysma Noise equals fun? Right.

  200. What, you mean different people might have different preferences regarding the atmosphere of a restaurant? But we can all find places that suit us if we’re flexible and make an effort to find those places that work for us? NO WAY! You’re being far too sensible!

  201. It's an interesting question; do we really need restaurants anymore? I don't mean places to grab some tasty tummy fuel, yes we need them. But the fine dining sort of places? I'm not so sure. A few maybe, but not as many as previously. I realize I've probably aged out at 67, but it's the noise that drives me out. When one has to yell to one's dining companions it raises stress hormone levels that negatively affect digestion and feelings of well being. And regarding it being cheaper to eat at home, I don't think it's just that (although that matters for a lot of people). I'm comfortable enough to be able to afford to go to fine dining places. My gripe is nutrition. A restaurant is always about entertaining the mouth, it's a sensory program, it's never about one's personal nutrition requirements. Eating at home is, and with the amazing ingredients available even in quite local areas, one can make delicious food, simply, and with plenty of mouth entertainment. Okay, that's my two cents, YMMV.

  202. I agree with Pete Wells that restaurants should be - at least more often than not - places of conversation. I don't mind when people are talking, maybe even louder than necessary, and have fun, and I certainly don't expect to hear a needle drop when I go to a hip place at happy hour. But exactly for this reason it is beyond my compression why so many restaurants (and also bars, by the way) choose to play loud music that makes exactly the purpose of visiting a restaurant or bar - to talk with your companions - difficult to impossible. Having to scream into the ear of your neighbor and not being able to understand what the person across the table is saying just ruins the experience and the point of going out at all.

  203. Amen, brother.

  204. One of my favorite DC restaurants has a noise problem. It's food is good but it is small and its tiled floors amplify every sound of clattering dishes and loud voices, but the most overwhelming sound isn't the voices. It's the clattering dishes. I don't even remember if there is music but if there is, it is drowned out other noise. I used to go there frequently but now prefer a calmer atmosphere where I can converse with my table mates. After all, that is part of the joy of dining out.