Opinion: All Restaurants Should Be Quiet and Bright
I don't know how I'm supposed to focus on the food when my already-dulled senses are under assault by contemporary jazz and darkness.
Think about eating at a diner. You're sitting around a table with, chances are, people that you care about and know well, because if you didn't, you'd have chosen a hot new restaurant to impress them. But no, you know they already like you, which is good, because diners certainly don't impress. What makes the experience of eating at diners so special—and comforting—isn't just the bottomless coffee, or the low-key good spaghetti, or the dinner specials with mashed potatoes and French fries, because why should you ever have to choose between the two? No, there's something about diners that we take for granted, and that's how light and quiet they are.
Minimal music, but usually none. Bright lights. You can hear and see the people you're sitting with; you can see the glass case of cakes and pies several yards away. You feel as though you're at home, though the food tastes better because they use more oil and salt than you'd ever have the courage to. No music, no mood lights, and no ambiguous nodding to pretend you heard a person you didn't, because what if they were telling you about their cat's surgery and you didn't look sufficiently sad?
As someone who is hard of hearing and seeing, I cherish stepping into a restaurant where I can see and hear as much as I'm capable of seeing and hearing; any impairments should come from me, not the environment. The environment should make me feel comfortable and safe and happy, just as the food should. Which is why I feel that restaurants should be way brighter. Turn all the lights fully on. And turn down the music, way down. The lack of mood lighting may make your restaurant feel less trendy, but hey, more people can take actually-usable Instagram photos, which is good for business.
I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, but loud music belongs at the discothèque, and darkness is for sleeping! And, the truth is, I don't care that much about sounding like a curmudgeon.
I know I'm not the only one who feels this way—at least when it comes to the issue of noise. As noted by Vox in "Why Restaurants Became So Loud—And How to Fight Back," Zagat and Consumer Reports surveys found that overly noisy dining rooms is the top complaint diners have. Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema told the Vox reporter that "noise is 'by far' his chief complaint about the restaurants he reviews." (Plus, repeated exposure to crazy-loud restaurants causes hearing loss over time.)
While controlling the volume of conversations is next to impossible, restaurants can, at the very least, avoid throwing in extra noises.
Then there's the issue of dark dining rooms. Unless you're eating at a novelty pitch-black restaurant (as I did, topless), you probably want to be able to see your menu, and your food, and maybe even take a picture of someone or something. I don't know, it's nice to see your friends! And have conversations with them; that's what made you friends in the first place. Brighter restaurants would be enormously helpful to the countless people who appreciate fine-dining but also have trouble navigating dimly lit spaces. Fine dining shouldn't have to mean challenging, and as menus begin to reflect this, dining rooms should, too.