There are a few dining establishments in New York City that always pop into my head whenever the topic of loud music comes up. In a city populated by base-thumping sports bars and Muzak-blaring chain restaurants, low-key eateries like, say, Joe Allen in the theater district or that little Hungarian pastry shop near Columbia University are notable for playing no music at all.
One thing these quiet restaurants have in common—besides offering a pleasant atmosphere where patrons can actually hear each other—is that they’re almost always packed.
That’s right. It turns out, people actually want to be able to have audible conversations when they go out to eat. Although restaurant owners intent on blasting Ed Sheeran at 120 decibels while diners try to enjoy their steak tartare may seem oblivious to that fact, it will come as no surprise to the respondents of a new survey in which an overwhelming 66.7% of frequent diners cited loud volume as the No. 1 thing they disliked about restaurant music.
In fact, it wasn’t even close. The next reason cited for disliking restaurant music was poor sound quality, but only 21% of respondents said that. No. 3 on the list was “disliked artist” (20.8%), followed by “explicit content” (14.8%) and “profanity” (13.9%).
Ironically, the survey was conducted by Cloud Cover Music, a company that offers streaming music to businesses. The survey found that sports bars were the worst offenders when it came to playing music that people didn’t like, followed by casual dining, fast casual, and fine dining. (You can check out the full survey here.)
There are a few caveats with the data. The survey was conducted online and only included 941 responses, and the responses weren’t weighted. So it can hardly be considered representative. Still, for diners (like me!) who believe that the loud-music restaurant trend is out of control, the survey results are a satisfying nugget of conformation bias.
You might ask yourself why restaurant owners continue to blast loud music—I mean, if everyone hates it so much. One theory, as Vox pointed out in 2018, is that people tend to eat and drink faster in loud environments, which speeds up turnover and therefore boosts business.
That sounds like a plausible enough reason to pump up the volume, but then I keep coming back to my favorite quiet haunts. If not playing music is so bad for business, why is it always so hard to get a table at that little Hungarian pastry shop?