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Restaurants and Atmosphere. 
10th-Jan-2009 10:47 am
slanty, martha
I go out to dinner once a month with a group of 7-10 people. Last night we went to Teppanyaki in Lexington, a place like Benihana's, where the chef cooks your food at your table with much showmanship. Hokey, but fun, and the kids loved it.

I had a great time because I was able to see and talk to everyone in the group, even the ones across the fairly large table from me. For me, having a good time with my friends is at least as important a part of going out to eat as the food.

Why was this? because there was no background music (even quiet background music leads to people talking a bit louder, and others then have to talk louder to be heard over them, and so forth in a vicious cycle) and the room was brightly lit. Seeing the person across the table well makes it easier to talk to them; you can see the I-want-to-speak-now, I'm-interested-in-what-you're-saying, and I'm-bored facial expressions and body language more easily, and everyone lipreads more than they realize in noisy environments.

So my standards for good atmosphere in a restaurant are good lighting, good acoustics, and lack of background music. By this standard, most hospital cafeterias have great atmosphere, and most fancy restaurants have lousy atmosphere.

Even in a place that feels they want to emphasize cuisine over sociability, many places are so dark that the visual appeal of the food is dramatically reduced for me.

I understand having background music when there are only a few people in the restaurant, to make it easier not to overhear or be overheard from other tables. But once it gets crowded and noisy, the background music makes everyone louder, and makes hearing the conversations from the next table more common for me, not less.

So am I that dramatically different from most people in my restaurant preferences? Or are the people that run most fancy restaurants stupid?
10th-Jan-2009 03:51 pm (UTC)
Background music - Die! Die! Die!
10th-Jan-2009 03:55 pm (UTC)
i went to a thai place where the lighting was harsh and there was hardly any background music. it has to be said, i enjoyed the food more...probably, as you said, because you can actually see what it is you're eating. haha.
10th-Jan-2009 04:09 pm (UTC)
Hmmm.... I certainly hate loud restaurants and won't go to them. Fortunately, I also don't like the food at loud restaurants, generally (TGI Friday's, etc.). Most places, I don't even notice the background music, because the ambient noise drowns it.

But yeah, the big part of the dining experience for me is the visiting. If I can't do that, I think I'd rather stay home.
10th-Jan-2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
Well, you're a nerd. Nerds prize function over form.

I agree with your preferences. I'm a nerd, too.

You probably wear warm rather than fashionable clothes in the winter, too. Heaven forfend.
10th-Jan-2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
I agree completely about lighting: when the restaurant staff remember to dim the lights at about 6:15, I always think, "Someone in the kitchen just made a mistake they don't want us to see."

I don't usually think about background music in restaurants, unless it's actively annoying. But yeah, the noise-inflation theory makes sense. I often have cause to think about which restaurants might be quiet enough so various hard-of-hearing members of my family will be able to follow the conversation. Usually what I look for is smallish rooms or somewhat-enclosed corners, and what the walls, ceiling, and floor are made of. This is why I disagree with you about cafeterias vs. fancy restaurants. I think the best way to cut down on noise inflation is to hang something soft on the walls. And add carpeting, and ideally have a ceiling that doesn't reflect noise, but those involve more work.
10th-Jan-2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I agree that many places have better acoustic properties than cafeterias, but my actual experience is that it's often easier to hear in the "no-atmosphere" places, and I suspect that background music is the culprit.

And a ceiling can make a huge difference. Unless they remove the tin ceiling, I will never go to the Summer Shack again, since I can't even hear the person sitting right next to me.
10th-Jan-2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
A lot of places would be better without background music. I can kind of accept it in coffee shops; it's part of the overall coffeeshop aesthetic. In retail stores, however, it's typically just not adding anything to my Shopping Experience(tm).
10th-Jan-2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
If we were going to an "upscale" restaurant, Barry's Dad would always take a little flashlight because he hated having to work at reading the menu.
11th-Jan-2009 04:14 pm (UTC)
In A Thousand Clowns, one of my favorite movies, our hero, a very down-to-earth guy, is taken to a fancy restaurant. When the waiter comes, his order is "I'll have a hamburger and a flashlight".
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