Chew on this

March 19, 2010 

One of the most common complaints I've heard about restaurants over the years is that many of them are too noisy. In response, I wrote an article about the subjecct a few years ago.

When I was researching the article, I discovered that a growing number of restaurants actually create a "high energy ambience" on purpose. Seems there are studies showing that food and alcohol consumption rise with the decibel level. Cranking up the volume, by turning up the background music or engineering the shape and surfaces of the dining room, is just another effort to improve the bottom line.

I can understand that effort, and on occasion I even enjoy a "high energy ambience" myself. But most of the time, like many of you, I'd rather dine in a setting where I can carry on a conversation with my friends at a less-than-shouting volume. I concluded my article by promising to include a note in my restaurant reviews whenever I encountered excessively high noise levels. If anything, it's gotten worse, as a recent article in The N&O by my friend and fellow foodie Debbie Moose made clear. Her article, headlined "An Ear-Splitting Din with Dinner," stirred up a hornet's nest of comments from readers. One writer even suggested I take a decibel meter with me when I dine out and report the results in my review.

I'll pass on the decibel meter suggestion, thanks, but I am going to amp up my reporting on the noise level in restaurants. Beginning with my review of March 26, I'll be adding a "Noise level" line to the info box that accompanies reviews, just beneath the "Atmosphere" line. I'll rate the level as High (meaning you'll probably get hoarse trying to carry on a conversation), Moderate or Low (even whispered sweet nothings can be heard). Since the volume can change substantially over the course of the evening, you'll sometimes see a rating of, say, Low to Moderate or Moderate to High. That way, maybe we can save our shouting for our kids' soccer matches.

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