November 2, 2013

Eat, Pray, Shovel.

It's official. I am now one of "those women" that I used to dismiss (and possibly not even notice) when I was a 20-something regular restaurant-goer and social butterfly. You know the type... middle-aged matrons sitting with an extra layer of clothing on, possibly a scarf or sweater. They blend in easily by slouching slightly to diminish their breasts, which they no longer enjoy putting on display. They can be observed pushing their glasses back up on their nose or tucking a stray grey hair behind an unadorned ear. Quiet and well-behaved, they rarely raise a ruckus and usually dine early, shuffling out and back to their dull lives before the fashionistas hit the scene.


Go ahead, have a good laugh.
If you're not there yet, you'll get there soon enough. In fact, smart restaurant owners might want to stop laughing and pay attention. Baby-boomers are the biggest consumer group North America has ever presented. As we slide towards 60, we are a force to be reckoned with. And guess what? We want to be able to see what we're eating and hear what we're saying. 

Last night, dining at a trendy downtown restaurant, I could barely hear my friend's soft voice. Both of us were bent over the table, leaning towards each other with six inches between our noses. What? I'm sorry, could you repeat that? Again? Even with our glasses on, we had trouble reading the menu in the dim light - there were no candles and no lights on or near our table, which was beside a large group of - you guessed it - young gals out on a Friday night. Their conversation easily eclipsed ours. We shovelled our food into our mouths, went to the loo (if you're nodding your head, it's because you know about frequent bathroom visits at this age) and headed outside to escape the cacophony inside. I tell ya!

I did some research. The typical restaurant operates at an 80 decibel level, with some reaching as high as 110. An ambulance with sirens, comparatively, is 105 decibels. Restaurant owners believe that high noise equates excitement. "It's not noise," said one chef, "It's the sound of people having fun, it's the sound of life." Rosyln Grundy, co-editor of The Age Good Food Guide 2014, disagrees. She says that patrons are always asking about noise levels, and many want "quiet restaurant" recommendations. 

Did you know that noise affects your ability to taste? 
It turns out that loud noise actually reduces our ability to detect acid, salt and sugar, contrarily enhancing our ability to detect bitterness. I don't know if it was the noise, but I was surprised at how little I enjoyed my gorgeous looking portobello vegan burger, and when I sampled my friend's truffle-laden crostini, it was remarkably bland. Many national restaurant reviewers are now including noise level as part of their reports. As far as I'm concerned, that's good news. If I'm going to hand over $50 for a meal (the average price these days with a glass of wine or two), then I want to enjoy the moment, not rush through it.

If all else fails, do what some other friends did during their recent loud-restaurant experience - they ended up texting each other instead of shouting over the table. CAN U HEAR ME NOW?

2 comments:

  1. I never gave this a lot of thought but I do tend to avoid noisy restaurants as I like to be able to have conversations during meals without yelling back and forth and there are many to chose from where I am -thank god!
    Good point and well made. Restaurant owners need to pay attention, if they want to have a following of the huge demographics that are out there.

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  2. I experienced this the other night at a local restaurant. The music and restaurant noise was so loud that I too joked with my friend about just texting each other during dinner since we had to repeat everything 3 or 4 times. The noise level certainly takes away from a dining experience. If I want loud music, I will go to a bar that serves food. That way I can enjoy a drink and the atmosphere. I paid over $150 for our meal and we were both very happy to finally come out of the restaurant and breath a sigh of relief from the noise.

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