I had assumed that restaurants are noisy because they are successful , that the loudness is a results of more patrons crowded together. It turns out that I was wrong . It seems that restaurants deliberately cultivate a noisy atmosphere because it is a factor in their success. In other words , their success is ( at least partly) because of the ambient noise.
Who’d have thought ? In earlier times , the better restaurants featured a quieter ambience where the only noises were the murmurs of hushed conversations and the subdued clink of forks and knives. Nowadays , successful restaurants have a very different atmosphere. As I think about some of the better restaurants that we’ve been to in the recent past ( Morimoto, Churrascaria Plataforma ,The Modern , Dylan Prime) , I realize that all of them were noisy . That’s to be expected at Dylan Prime ( a steakhouse) ,at Churrascaria Plataforma( a rodizio) and at The Modern ( a bar restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art). However , even at Morimoto , a luxe restaurant if ever there was one , we couldn’t carry on a conversation with friends at the other end of our table of ten ; we had to raise our voices to be heard. I remember thinking that the walls and other surfaces at Morimoto were sound reflecting and wondering why it was so. It turns out it was deliberate.
According to an article in Psychology Today ( October 2010) , not just restaurants but retail stores, boutiques and chain stores use the sound level to shape consumer environments and customer behavior. Research has established that shoppers ” make more impulsive purchases when they are overstimulated. Loud volume leads to sensory overload which weakens self – control.” The article refers to George Prochnik’s book In pursuit of Silence, saying “ At Abercrombie & Fitch , the head pounding music is also designed to attract the desired customers – teens . As one executive from the sound design firm told Prochnik ‘ If it’s too loud ,you’re too old’.”
That explains a lot of things . Older people are more careful with their money , more inclined to question whether something is a good buy before they order , whether restaurant food or clothing or something else. The older people get, the more conservative they become with their purchases. On the other hand , the young spend freely and are more prone to impulse buying. No wonder stores and restaurants cater to the younger crowd. Also , people flock to places which seem to be successful in attracting others like themselves. That’s how a restaurant becomes an “in” place , and not just for the younger set.
I remember being pleased with the atmosphere at The Modern. In an earlier post ,I’d written ” the Bar Room is noisy. Many of the walls and the columns are mirrored and, no doubt, increase the noise level. … In the dining area , the tables are close together; we thought the resulting cacophony would be bothersome but that is not the case. It felt so very much like The City and pretty soon we added to the buzz.”
Quite the opposite was our experience at a Pakistani restaurant in Edison. We’d heard that their Sunday afternoon buffet offered a hundred different choices and decided to check it out . It was true. Just seeing the hundred different dishes laid out was a treat and the food was very good . However , the atmosphere left a lot to be desired. The proprietor must have been one of those ultra -conservative Muslims who believe that music was forbidden by the Koran . There was no music at all and the tables in the cavernous dining hall were occupied by a few Muslim families silently consuming their food . No smiles , little talk and of course no music. The atmosphere was gloomy and depressing and we never went back there again even though the food was good.
Without the buzz , there is no pleasure in dining out … not for the young, and not for the old.
The idea that sound levels and noise can ” over-stimulate” customers into buying things may seem far-fetched but consider this …When a wine store played French music , most customers bought French wines, while German music resulted in an upsurge in sales of German wines. Convincing, yes ?
Another little snippet from the article : A French research study showed that when songs with ” prosocial ” lyrics i.e those about empathy and helping others , were played it resulted in bigger tips . If I were a waiter , I’d try to find out what those songs were and make sure they were played at peak times !!