I just left a lovely little bistro in Seattle feeling abused and dyspeptic. The food was great, but the meal was an ordeal. I had a wonderful Cesar Salad, roasted yellow beets, and a truly fabulous plate of gnocchi, all served by a funny, smart, gracious young woman. Why was I feeling lousy when I left? Because throughout the meal I was blasted by a weird loop of techno-rock music delivered at maximum screech. From here on out, I'm leaving any restaurant that's too noisy for me to have a conversation with my meal partner. Be on alert restaurant owners. I'm not alone in this reaction. In fact, some unlucky restaurant in San Francisco just lost an affluent dinner party of 10, when we all decided to eat at a friends home rather than brave another conversation-killing restaurant experience.
I don't get it. Where in the food service literature is it written that restaurants in the U.S. make more money by abusing customers with ear-splitting, communication-ending, stomach-churning music? Seriously, I challenge the restaurant professionals: Has anyone ever seen a Yelp or Trip Advisor review that berates a restaurant for not having loud music? I haven't! Tonight's server told me it's about "the ambiance." It's true -- but it's about creating a food-averse ambiance.
This happens everywhere in the contiguous United States and Alaska -- but, I had half a dozen great meals in British Columbia in the past few days, and not once did I feel the victim of aural assault. I've traveled and worked on all 7 continents, eaten in terrific restaurants everywhere, (OK, not in the Antarctic, where the food was basic at best), and only feel this way when I'm at U.S. restaurants. European restaurants are wise enough to know what music pairs properly with their food.
The only time that loud music made sense to me was late in the evening in a bar in Santa Rosa, California. I asked the waiter why the volume was so extreme. He answered, "we're trying to get rid of the patrons so we can close." It worked.