I’ve just come back from a pleasant lunch in town with a friend I haven’t seen in ages. We were looking forward to a gossipy catch-up. Very nice, I hear you say. Lucky old you. What’s your point? I’ll tell you.
The first restaurant we tried, the music was so loud we politely asked for it to be turned down, only to be told they couldn’t do that from there as it was “controlled by head office”. We looked at each other in disbelief. This was a new one on us. I even felt sorry for the unhelpful staff. I’m sure they didn’t necessarily want to be constantly bombarded from all directions with piped “muzak” chosen at random by some spotty little oik based umpteen miles away and well out of range. We left.
In the next likely-looking place, we were also told they couldn’t turn the music down (bizarre!) but they did, at least, show a bit more willing and directed us to a relatively quieter corner. We stayed.
Back home, after a little online visit to TripAdvisor, I vented my spleen on FaceBook, secure in the knowledge I would have plenty of support amongst my sensible, like-minded friends. I did.
I think we’ve all got used to background music so much, it would seem strange to walk into a shop where there isn’t some form of musical accompaniment. I’m not against it all. Besides, you’re not very likely to be lingering, chatting to friends, in a clothes shop or the like. But it does seem to be more than a little odd that the very places where you would like to hear yourselves think are the very places where they insist on playing music.
Now, please don’t write me off as a moaning old minnie. I love live music and loud music in the right setting and if I’ve paid specifically for that purpose. I’m going along to a gig, secure in the knowledge that I’m in for a belting good time, listening to the music of my choice and returning home with my ears ringing and a huge smile on my face. Job done. But, when eating out, why in God’s name would anyone want to hear background music they haven’t chosen blaring out and battling against the general cheerful hum of contented diners?
Recently, another friend and I were enjoying a catch-up lunch where the music, merry though it undoubtedly was, was kept to the business, ie counter end of the cafe and not the seating end – thereby keeping both staff and customers happy. Excellent idea!
Do restaurants play the music to encourage diners to eat quickly and leave? Then surely they are wrong, since, if you are lingering somewhere, you are likely to spend more money and order another course/bottle of wine/basket of bread/your favourite waiter lightly dressed and served on a platter.
Or do these places just like to play the music loud for the staff’s benefit? I pondered this when on holiday in Cornwall last year. We visited a recommended burger place in a popular seaside resort, only to be met with disco-level music blaring out everywhere we tried to sit. It was just us and a family with young children in there at the time. I was very surprised the parents hadn’t requested a bit of peace and quiet, though maybe they preferred the din to the sound of their squabbling offspring, so it was down to us to ask the question. The response received from the young woman behind the counter was churlish and surly, to put it mildly but even she could see, through the thick haze of her resentment, that she would be two valued customers down if she didn’t do something about the almighty racket, so very reluctantly and gracelessly did so.
At a time when restaurants and pubs are closing down everywhere, why do these places seem to be hellbent on making their customer experience as uncomfortable as it is possible to be? Surely the staff would like to hang on to their jobs? Many of these High Street places are much of a muchness, particularly the two Italian chain restaurants my friend and I originally tried. So why aren’t they all a lot more concerned?
Perhaps one answer would be to designate some quiet areas but my guess is that everyone would gravitate towards these and the more noisy areas would become barren wastes. Who knows how it will pan out (excuse the pun)? But, really, isn’t it about time someone at least tried?!