Exposing yourself in restaurants


The Nerd’s The Last Word

“It’s noisy in here” observed my fiancé when we dined out at a small and trendy chain burger restaurant earlier this week. You know the kind; exposed lightbulbs, exposed brickwork, exposed ducting and exposed waiting staff. This place was so stripped back it made an abandoned factory warehouse look like a cosy nook in a Cotswold cottage.

It was stark and industrial with everything on show, including the kitchen, which for some reason is a thing now, perhaps to appease those who may have concerns about the restaurant’s hygiene. In which case, why don’t we just go all-out and install transparent toilets to check they’re washing their hands as well?

The charity, Action for Hearing Loss has recently conducted a study of contemporary restaurants and found that many are so loud, they are reaching noise levels of over 90dB – that’s the equivalent of a running lawn mower or motorbike engine right by your face.

I observed the same thing a few weeks before at a well-known Japanese restaurant that sported acoustically friendly furnishings such as solid stone floors, hardwood benches, tables and the obligatory open-plan kitchen – broadcasting loud frying noises, shouting and the occasional clatter of dropped pans; exactly the kind of jarring experience I needed to help me unwind after a long day of unwanted peace and quiet.

Conversation was mostly kept to short bursts, often with a cocked ear pointed in the direction of the speaker. “This is great” I thought as I found myself somehow being able to hear the excitable conversation from the twenty-something girls on other side of the room reverberating clearer than the person I was desperately trying to lip read in front of me.

Restaurants are at war with soft furnishings – carpets, curtains and even the plaster on the walls are the enemy. They won’t stop until every establishment is as bare as a bus station concourse and we’re all eating our food perched upon stools fabricated from reclaimed scaffolding whilst an industrial fan buzzes menacingly above our heads for lack of a sound system, pumping in air from a nearby foundry for that added industrialized atmosphere.

Mimicking the aesthetics of an airy Brooklyn attic apartment may be du jour amongst popular restaurant chains at the moment, especially in the Instagram age where appearance often trumps the quality of the service and the food, but leaving an establishment with shellshock and tinnitus, begging for a quiet room to sit in won’t be at the top of most people’s lists when dining out.