Ask Addie: Why is restaurant music so loud?
As an older person who has enjoyed dining out in probably thousands of restaurants over the years, I have always been curious about why some play such loud music. Many establishments do not play music, and many more play background music to relax and dine by, but those that play loud and unrelaxing music baffle me. Do they want patrons to hurry to leave so they can turn tables, or is it a wish to appeal to the "cool," younger crowd who seem to enjoy screaming at each other from across the table, or, as one waitperson told me, just what the manager enjoys?
- Donald W. Giller, Austin
Music will be on a lot of our minds (and ears) as the Austin City Limits Music Festival gets under way at Zilker Park Friday, and you're not the only person who goes to restaurants for the food, not the music.
What's tricky about music at restaurants is that, just like the lighting or the amount of salt in the food, you don't really notice it until there's too little or too much, and what is tolerable and enjoyable is different to every person.
At Max's Wine Dive downtown, the rock 'n' roll vibe is essential to the dining experience that the staff is trying to create, says Jonathan Horowitz, vice president of marketing and communication for the parent company that owns the three Max's restaurants. "Music gives the place a very distinct energy," he says. "However, we don't want it to be uncomfortable."
Because the restaurant is located in an old warehouse, the builders had to install sound absorption tiles on the ceiling and foam padding underneath the tables to help absorb some of the excess noise.
The line between "vibrant" and "loud" is thin, and they try to err on the side of vibrant, but to do away completely with the up-tempo tunes would detract from the experience they are trying to create.
At the recently opened Roll On Sushi, co-owner Chip Reed says music doesn't just affect the customers, but the waitstaff and kitchen staff, too. "You can see it on their faces, good or bad."
Reed uses the Austin-based music service DMX, which offers a number of playlists, each selected to provide a specific vibe. The problem isn't just figuring out how loud to play the music, but which playlist works for the different kinds of customers that come in at various times of the day. "We're still trying to get it right," he says.
So, both restaurants and diners have a responsibility here. Restaurant staff should pay attention to how loudly diners are having to talk to one another, and customers shouldn't sit in misery if the music is too loud and then go online to complain about it later. Politely talk - or speak loudly over the sound system, if necessary - to the server about the music and see if he or she can adjust it, at least for the duration of your visit. If your server doesn't respond, go to a manager. You might think you're only going for the food, but you're paying for ambience, too, and music is part of that.