Thursday, June 16, 2011

Can I just eat in #%&*@ peace, please?

Posted By on Thu, Jun 16, 2011 at 1:33 PM


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I was dining at a restaurant in Lawrence, Kansas, last weekend -- a mellow, Asian restaurant on Massachusetts Street -- and was ready to get up and leave after five minutes. Now, I usually don't care what kind of music a dining venue plays -- Muzak, Tubular Bells, old-school country and western, Lawrence Welk, Lady Gaga -- as long as it stays in the background and isn't dominating the dining experience. Is that too much to ask?

But at 2 p.m., this dining room was practically vibrating from some loud, headbanging, totally obtrusive soundtrack. Loud enough that I couldn't even focus on the menu. It was almost like having an uninvited guest at our table: a visceral presence that was unmistakably there. One has are two options in this kind of scenario: get up and leave or ask if the music can be turned down. Way down.


The waitress was cool. She shrugged and turned the volume down. One of the other servers in the dining room, I noticed, got his nose out of joint, however. The music was coming from the iPod of one of the employees -- according to the waitress -- so I guessed that, maybe, it was his.

I have always had mixed feelings about servers making the music decisions for a dining room. Some of them don't understand that the audio component of the dining experience should enhance the ambience, not play a discordant note. Or, as a friend of mine says, "I'm not eating here so a fucking server can pretend he's the hot new DJ at a club."

There are all kinds of variations on this theme. I once worked at a midtown bistro where the servers were encouraged to bring in music from their own collections -- cassettes, which tells you how long ago this was -- and the soundtrack was a motley collection of weirdness. The biggest offender in the mix, as far as I was concerned, was David Foster's "Theme Song From St. Elmo's Fire," which seemed to be in rotation one too many times for sanity's sake. So one day, I hid the cassette -- in the trash bin. But a couple of weeks later, I was longing for the David Foster song when our overenthusiastic host brought in Madonna's I'm Breathless and played it endlessly.

Restaurant owners can be just as guilty. One restaurateur insisted that the only recording that could ever be played in his dining room was Mosaique by the Gipsy Kings. After a couple of months of this, the music became like waterboarding on my psyche. And then, one day, my mind simply blocked the soundtrack out completely: I couldn't hear it anymore.

In the 1980s, the owner of the vegetarian restaurant in Indianapolis loved Vivaldi's The Four Seasons so passionately that no other music could ever be played in the dining room, and then he started to question why the cassette tape of the recording kept vanishing every night. Finally he gave up and ordered Muzak. The cassettes, by the way, are still hidden somewhere in the building -- but the vegetarian restaurant's been gone for years.
 


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