Thu 4 Jan 2007
If music be the food of love, by all means, play on, but in restaurants, when food is paramount, silence is the best sound of all.
In other words, I hate music in restaurants.
This statement is inspired by a piece about music sound tracks in Manhattan restaurants in yesterday’s New York Times written by Peter Meehan, who also writes the “$25 and Under” dining reviews, the point being that the vast majority of restaurant owners and managers don’t even consider not having a musical backdrop in their dining rooms. The main questions are what kind of music to provide and who will compile the selections, the owner or manager, the staff, or an outside company like the famed Muzak or some other company with a younger, hipper focus.
Nobody brought up the crucial issue of how loud, I mean how LOUD the music should be played.
Here’s an example. We went to The Mermaid Inn (96 Second Ave in Manhattan.) not long after it opened and found the food OK — the restaurant was slammed — but not as good as The Red Cat or The Harrison, which are under the same ownership. The chief problem wasn’t the food, however, but the music, downtown alt rock, that was played so loudly that waiters had to shout at diners, diners had to shout back at waiters and nobody at the table could have a conversation or even say “Pass the bread” without bellowing or writing a note. It was like being in a club, not a restaurant. Restaurant owners may think that’s cool, but it ain’t.
In fact, I find this experience not merely irritating or off-putting but deadly. Playing music — any kind of music — in a restaurant so loudly that the sound dominates the room, calls attention to itself and shatters the concentration that should be centered on the food and wine ruins dining out for me, and I would bet that I’m not alone in this reaction. It seems counter-intuitive to me that restaurants would continue, actually aggressively continue, in a practice that can alienate diners. Isn’t the idea in business to cater to customers?
Equally bad is inappropriate music in restaurants. I can’t tell you the times I have sat in a fine-dining establishment, trying to enjoy some splendid dish, while Tony Bennett practically stands next to the table leaving his heart in San Francisco or Frank Sinatra has a very good year or reggae throbs through the dining room. Or hits of the Eighties! Do we have to be reminded?
No, my friends, if there must be music, let it be almost subliminal, a sound that stays so firmly in the background that we perceive it only when there’s a lull in the activity.
Even better, let there be no music at all except for the sounds that should be music to all our ears: The mild clatter of cutlery, the low murmur or conversation, the sigh of enjoyment and pleasure.