I recently spent the evening screaming at my friends. This took place at one of those upscale restaurants where you ask for “tap water” and they look at you like you’re trying to take a selfie of your butt cheeks.
The interesting thing is, I wasn’t mad at my friends, when I was screaming at them. I was merely trying to speak to them, like normal humans might interact with one another. Except I had to scream, because this particular restaurant had approximately the same decibel level as London during the Blitz.
Normally, I would just go somewhere else. There are, after all, literally zillions of nice restaurants popping up everywhere, and they each have single-word names from foreign languages that sound completely made up. Aja. Mehek. Pazzo. Senza. Tandoor. These are all actual names of nearby restaurants, and they each serve roughly the same things: braised quinoa. Sundried tomato puree. Meat dishes the size of a USB stick.
So it’s absolutely impossible for me to remember which is which, and I’ve just started referring to them by a distinguishing feature. “You know,” I’ll say. “The one on 13th Street where the waiter looked like a kangaroo.”
I think, if I had a restaurant, I would call it Phil. Then it would be memorable. It would also be quiet.
I say this because you can’t really go “somewhere else,” if you’re trying to avoid restaurant loudness, because they’re all really loud. It’s gotten to the point where you could roll up to Mehek, hand the high school student valet parker nine bucks to scratch your car, and spend your entire meal uttering racial slurs at a normal speaking volume. People wouldn’t even look up from their braised quinoa.
To me, this is the ultimate act of arrogance from restaurant owners. What I imagine, when I arrive in a loud restaurant, is that the restaurant owner thinks I’m here for the food. These people actually seem to believe I’ve come from miles away to meet up with friends who I haven’t seen in days, weeks, months, just so we can sit there and scream at each other about where the waiter is keeping his joey.
Well, newsflash, restaurant owners: the food isn’t as important as you think. When I go to a restaurant, I have two main goals. Number one: I want to catch up with my friends. And number two: I want to limit the number of times the waiter walks up, sees I’ve finished a meal, and sarcastically says: “Well, I can see you HATED that!” I have realized, in today’s restaurant world, that it has become physically impossible for waiters not to say this, in the same way that it is physically impossible for birds not to poop on your car. But once per meal would be enough.
Now, the funny thing about restaurant loudness is that virtually everyone I speak to says the same thing: restaurants are too loud. Everyone complains about this. Not even just old people anymore. I even hear this from young people. And I mean hip young people; the kind who are so active and cool that they know what to do with their arms during concerts.
It’s gotten so bad that OpenTable – the great online source for restaurant reservations, and also single-word restaurant names for Jalopnik columnists – actually has a category for “Noise level,” ranging from “Low” to “High.” But nothing ever scores “Low.” Everything is either “Moderate” or “High.” It’s gotten to the point where I’m starting to believe the only quiet restaurant left on this earth is a truck stop McDonald’s. And that assumes two long-haul truckers aren’t fighting over the last Egg McMuffin.
So I’ve started to wonder why this is; why restaurants are so loud. And I’ve come up with a couple of good answers.
Number one: it’s easier to clean a restaurant when you have wood floors. This wouldn’t normally seem like something that has to do with loudness, but what happens is, people start talking, and the noise bounces off the ceiling, then it bounces off the floor, then it bounces off the ceiling, then it spreads throughout the entire restaurant like anthrax spores.
Another reason restaurants are so loud is that they’ve started packing people in very tightly these days. Not long ago, I walked out of a restaurant because I was sitting closer to some guy’s date than he was. And although these people seemed very nice, I wasn’t about to share my sundried tomato puree with anyone.
And this is why, when I create Phil, it will have three things. Number one: carpeting. And don’t worry about cleaning issues, because it will also have number two: stains on the floor. Oh! And there will only be about six tables. And there won’t be any quinoa, although I will offer a healthy selection of breakfast cereals. Probably nobody will go there. But at least that will ensure me a “Low” noise level rating from OpenTable.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He divides his time between writing about cars and sitting around his house watching Gilmore Girls without any pants on. Also, he wrote this bio himself in the third person.