Take Your Pick: Civilized Conversation or Deafening Clatter

The Lempert Report
November 30, 2016

No I’m not referring to that long election cycle we just went through.

I’m talking about the experience that your customers have in your grocerant or other restaurant settings.

One of my favorite restaurants in NYC is named “Untitled” – the food is great – but what makes it so unique is they understand that people, at least some of us, dine out to socialize. We like to hear the people at our table. So they have created “audio zones” for each table by covering the celling with a porous acoustic platter that mops up noise like a giant sponge. Topline: it amplifies the good noise – our conversation – and reduces the bad noise – everyone else’s conversation and their cellphone rings.

And I’m seeing more restaurants redecorating to be more private than trying to be hip and create that loud and annoying buzz. Yes sometimes a buzz in a restaurant can give an almost euphoric feeling and make you glad you are there. But not always. 

Our friend, Charles Spence at Oxford University has published a paper “Noise and Its Impact on the Perception of Food and Drink,” in which he states that there is a growing body of laboratory-based research now demonstrates that loud background noise can affect the ability to taste food.

Spence goes on to say that our sense of taste is complex, impacted by sight, smell, memories, music, the last thing on our tongues before the next thing we put in our mouths. And that research indicates that loud noise may diminish salty and sweet flavors. Loud music also hinders our ability to perceive how much alcohol is in a cocktail. Interesting to note for many clubs and bars that get away overcharging for undersized drinks. 

Coincidentally, noise was the No. 1 grumble among consumers questioned in Zagat’s 2014 Dining Trends Survey. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said noise was more annoying than service, prices or crowds.  And while many chefs feel that using loud music sets the atmosphere to attract Millennials and Gen Z, Technomic found that 66 percent of consumers, despite their ages, see greater value when a restaurant has appropriate noise levels.

A lesson for all supermarkets and grocerants to heed.