Chinking plates, bangs and being able to hear the intimate ins and outs of family life from diners at neighbouring tables are all things which at the end of the day can cost a star when food critics write about their impressions from a restaurant for a newspaper food column.
Even though food, wine and service have the highest priority on a food critic’s checklist, the acoustics and sound levels are an increasingly important factor for the overall dining experience, says Morten Vilsbæk, a food critic for the newspaper Fyens Stiftstidende and chairman of the Danish Food Critics’ Association.
“Acoustics and atmosphere are part and parcel of eating out. But it is all about finding the right balance. If the room is not designed to prevent noise from other guests disturbing a discussion around a table, then it’s a problem. On the other hand, it mustn’t be so quiet that you can hear a pin drop. This can suck the life out of a restaurant visit. Both my colleagues and I primarily focus on the raw ingredients and food preparation, but if there are poor acoustics, it i mentioned in the review,” says Morten Vilsbæk.
Profits squeeze acoustics
Generally speaking, Morten Vilsbæk and his colleagues mention problems with acoustics in connection with describing the restaurant interior. However, he can certainly envisage it becoming a fixed item on a food critic’s checklist, as is already the case in several American media. In particular because he finds that noise levels are increasing at many Danish restaurants and eateries.
“Hand in hand with the emergence of the bistro wave, restaurants have become livelier venues. Somewhere like Noma is, in terms of the acoustics, a nice place to be because there is plenty of space between the tables. On the other hand, a bistro needs to generate more revenue. Here, the focus is on value for money, with three dishes for DKK 350, so it is necessary to push the tables closer together and save on freshly ironed tablecloths. This creates a different restaurant layout and thus higher sound levels,” says Morten Vilsbæk.
However, he says that the lively environment can certainly be part of the charm of visiting this type of restaurant, especially for a younger clientèle, while older guests largely prefer peace and quiet during their meals.
Echoey basement restaurants
According to Morten Vilsbæk, basement restaurants in particular should pay close attention to sound levels. Here, the sounds bounce around the hard walls, floors and ceilings, unless materials are specifically chosen which dampen the acoustics.
“In several basement restaurants, you eat under a vaulted stone ceiling and on a tiled floor, which usually leads to difficult acoustics. If the food and the service are good, food critics usually overlook this, but establishments of this kind could certainly do more to improve their acoustics.