'Can You Turn It Down?'

'Can You Turn It Down?'

Forget bad food or lousy service — diners are making their true pet peeve known loud and clear

What’s the biggest complaint about restaurants?

I’ll overlook the dead rat under my table during a business dinner last year at a seafood restaurant in Tampa, and the waiter who nonchalantly asked, when I pointed it out, “Did you kill it?”  

In fact, the No. 1 complaint about restaurants isn’t service, bad food, diners climbing on chairs to take selfies, or sanitation, it’s ... (no drumroll, please) noise. In its 2018 Dining Trends Survey, the restaurant ratings outfit Zagat found that noise has edged out poor service as the top complaint people have about restaurants. Consumer Reports magazine has found the same.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or how generally conditioned your hearing is to high decibels. A recent headline on the news site Vox.com sums it up: “Restaurants are too freaking loud.”

There are a lot of reasons for restaurants being so noisy you can’t converse with your dinner companions — or, if you try to, that your shouting simply adds even more to the din. Too-loud recorded music is just one of the culprits. Others include modern restaurant design that favors hard surfaces and high ceilings, with a trend away from the noise abatement effect that even a tablecloth can add.

There is some pushback, I’m happy to say. Companies that specialize in noise reduction and acoustics for restaurants – selling sound paneling, ceiling and carpet tiles and the like – are aggressively promoting design renovations to the industry. The Acoustical Society of America, at its meeting scheduled for Louisville, Kentucky, in mid-May, has a session devoted to restaurant noise, with a note in the program-schedule saying that more and more patrons and restaurant owners are “acknowledging acoustical comfort” as a factor in the successful dining experience.

Then there is Gregory Farber, a research analyst who has been getting lots of ink in the last year thanks to a free app he created and manages, SoundPrint, which The New Yorker magazine called a “Yelp for noise.” Tap on the SoundPrint app anywhere you’re dining or drinking and you can get a decibel meter that displays the restaurant noise level through four stages, from quiet (70 decibels or lower) to very loud (over 81 decibels, basically belt-grinder level). Another tap sends your reading to a nationwide SoundPrint databank listing restaurants by sound levels. That data bank even has a category called “Quiet Lists,” with quiet restaurants arranged by city. SoundPrint says it has more than 60,000 submissions from customers at restaurants and bars across the nation.

Are restaurants complaining about being din-shamed? “We thought there would be more complaints,” Farber told me. “Many restaurants that we’ve spoken to acknowledge that their venues are just too noisy” and have sought advice on noise-mitigation, he said. Fast Company magazine gives SoundPrint an honorable mention in the apps category in its “World Changing Ideas 2019” survey.

Of course, some people actually enjoy noise, or at least a measure of what some might regard as comforting background noise.

Naturally, there is an app for that, which appeals to those working alone, say in a hotel room, who crave the acoustical ambiance of, say, a crowded Starbucks.

A site called MyNoise.net has a feature called Café Restaurant with an adjustable noise generator that plays muffled background sounds (without distracting discernable words) of a busy coffee shop. It’s billed as “The noise without the social distraction.”


MEMO PAD – Airlines in the U.S. and around the world pocketed $28.1 billion in extra revenue from checked-bags fees in 2018, more than double the $13.4 billion in 2014, according to a survey by IdeaWorksCompany and CarTrawler.

… Qatar Airways is the latest airline to join the T.S.A.’s expedited-security PreCheck program at its 10 domestic departure airports. A total of 67 domestic and international carriers are now enrolled in PreCheck … The T.S.A. set a record over the 2019 spring travel period from March 14 to April 28: 108,558,233  departing passengers screened, a 4.7 percent increase over that period last year. The top five airports in passengers screened during that period: Los Angeles; Kennedy; Chicago O’Hare; Orlando; Atlanta.

… On a stock analysts conference call April 26,  Robert Isom, the president of American Airlines, said this about the effect of the groundings of the MAX 8 aircraft, of which American has 24:  “For flights through August 19th, we have had to re accommodate almost 700,000 customers from almost 150,000 MAX cancellations. And it's not just our passengers. It's literally thousands of our crew members that have had their work schedules altered on very short notice.”

… The top 10 fast-food restaurants by U.S. sales, according to QSR, the fast-food industry magazine: McDonald’s; Starbucks; Subway; Burger King; Taco Bell; Wendy’s; Dunkin Donuts; Chick-fil-A; Domino’s; Pizza Hut.

… The global market for business jets, which is expected to reach about $20 billion within five years, is now being largely driven by sales of so-called ultra-long-range jets with ranges over 5,000 nautical miles, according to ResearchAndMarkets.com, which adds that “high net-worth individuals” account for much of that. In the market for that kind of ride? A new Gulfstream G550 (range 6,750 nautical miles) lists at $60 million, and that doesn’t the custom outfitting you’ll need for your.



About the Author: Joe Sharkey
Joe Sharkey’s work appears in major national and international publications. For 19 years, until 2015, he was a columnist for the New York Times — for 16 years doing the weekly “On the Road” column on business travel, and before that the weekly “Jersey” column for three years. He is currently a columnist with Business Jet Traveler magazine, and an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Arizona. A Vietnam veteran, he has written five books, four non-fiction and a novel. One of his nonfiction books, “Above Suspicion,” has been adapted as a major motion picture starring Emilia Clarke, Jack Huston, Thora Birch and Johnny Knoxville (and directed by Phillip Noyce), to be released soon. In January 2017, a new, revised edition of his book “Above Suspicion” was published in print and as an e-book by Open Road Media. Penguin Random House also released an audio book version in January. Open Road also published revised editions in e-book format of his true-crime books “Death Sentence” and “Deadly Greed.” In January 2018, the revised edition of “Death Sentence” was published in print by Open Road Media. In his newspaper career before the New York Times, he was an assistant national editor at the Wall Street Journal; the executive city editor of the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union; and a reporter and columnist with the Philadelphia Inquirer. On Sept. 29, 2006, while on assignment, he was one of seven people on a business jet who survived a mid-air collision with a 737 at 37,000 feet over the Amazon in Brazil. All 154 on the commercial airliner died. His reports on the crash appeared on the front page of the New York Times and later in the Sunday Times of London Magazine. He and his wife Nancy (who is a professor of journalism at the University of Arizona) live in Tucson — where he is also working on a new novel about the exploits of an international travel writer who hates to travel. .