You’d think finding a restaurant in New York City would be easy. There are about 24,000 places happy to have you plop down, eat, and produce a credit card. And that doesn’t count the plentiful fast food joints, pizza parlors, and innumerable food trucks.
But when we want to find somewhere to meet friends, the search can be challenging.
It’s not that we’re such picky eaters or our friends want only a specific cuisine. Nor is it about location, but that does come into play if we’re meeting before theater. Price, though important, isn’t the deciding factor.
It’s about Noise. Finding somewhere quiet enough to hold and hear a conversation presents the hardest part about eating out. The noise isn’t only from music played but from the sounds of many conversations all at once, in rooms not designed for quiet. One couple we see about once a year select a restaurant where they can book a specific table, because it’s far away from the bar and main dining level. Years ago, I had a romantic date at a since closed restaurant, “A Quiet Little Table in the Corner.” It was just that—every table was a corner. A bit gimmicky, but you could talk without yelling and listen without straining.
When I book these days, I ask about quiet tables. There’s never a guarantee. What’s reasonably quiet to some could be excruciating to others.
So reading David Owen’s “Volumetrics” in the 5/13/09 New Yorker https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/05/13/is-noise-pollution-the-next-big-public-health-crisis set off an alarm. He describes someone diagnosed with hyperacusis—an intolerance to sound that causes patients to flinch at the slightest noise, making normal social interactions impossible. There’s no cure.
It’s long been said that we’re losing our hearing due to loud rock concerts, sporting events, power tools, and traffic.
I’d love to see architects consider soundproofing in their designs for public spaces like restaurants. After all, much about dining out is about talking and listening.