An architect designs an empty restaurant, that’s for sure. There are no people getting in the way, no piles of messy food and no wine glasses to knock over. There is also no sound.
Lunchtime, it is acknowledged, is for talking, perhaps business or gossip. But functionality prevails. In the evening it’s all about the atmosphere.
With few people in a restaurant at 6pm when the doors open, the music starts nice and gently. As more people sit down, the noise of their chatter, the timpani of plates and cutlery as they are collected, competes with the music. The staff then razz it up and customers have to talk louder to hear each other. Then the volume gets turned up again. And so, a never ending spiral.
The problem is solvable, even in our times of hard floor surfaces and no tablecloths, There are materials which will absorb sound as it bounces off ceilings and floors. But it’s an unseen extra at the time of fit out, and is too often cut to fit the budget.
New York at least is taking the matter seriously. The New York Times restaurant critics not only visit a restaurant 3 times before writing a review (an excellent habit which the Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler is also adopting), but give a rating for sound level in their score. Some in London think that Londoners don’t mind. Or that the restaurant scene here is just for 20 and 30 year olds, so it doesn’t matter. But they’re wrong. Many I have talked to recently, including a 36 year old in the music industry, are starting to give really noisy restaurants a wide berth. I had a letter published on the subject in the Standard 2 weeks ago with much positive feedback.
While London is riding so high on its diverse pop ups and tiny “street” venues with everyone crammed in tightly consuming every kind of cuisine combination imaginable, they will get away with it. Currently it’s hard to imagine the inward flow of global brands wanting to open branches in our capital, or independents with a new take, ever abating. But the tide will eventually turn, seats will become emptier, and there will be more competition. It’s inevitable. The simple law of supply and demand.
And then perhaps we can start being Parisian again, with the quiet hum of voices against the real restaurant sounds: the gentle clatter of crockery, and the hiss of the coffee machine.