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Jack Spiegelman: Music doesn’t improve restaurant experience

I have a morning routine: drinking coffee and reading the paper at a coffee shop near my house. I’ll omit the name of the restaurant. Let’s call it Chiacchierare (“to chat”). Chiacchierare is great. There is a vibe. The help is cool and you get a good mix, customer-wise, of the young and not so young and everyone else in between. I’m a regular and friendly with some of the other regulars.

I’m there early. I have insomnia. I arrive at 6 a.m. and my first thought upon entering through the door is always the same: How loud will the music be this morning?

It depends. Every day is different. One day it’s loud, the next day louder, and the day after that at medium volume or even down low. I never know. From time to time it’s switched off entirely.

I should make the point that I love music. My preferences are Beethoven, Stravinsky, Dylan, the Stones and Metallica. I despise Hawaiian and mariachi music, but otherwise it’s a glorious art. But not at 6 a.m., turned up full blast, when I have an intense desire for silence in which to read the paper with my coffee.

One day I went to the Chiacchierare website and clicked on the “contact us” link and fired off an email to corporate headquarters, which promptly returned with one of its own thanking me for the feedback and promising action. But I knew what would happen next: nothing.

The word would be passed along to the staff to do something about the music because the old guy who arrives every morning at 6 a.m. sharp is ready to snap. Action would be taken, maybe, for a day or two and then quickly forgotten and everything would return to its normal hit-or-miss routine. You follow my meaning.

It all points to the larger issue of music in restaurants, along with every other public venue. I wonder if the effect it has upon me is shared by others and how large this number may be. I have no idea.

I go to a restaurant to meet with friends to break bread and go back and forth with them for a richly satisfying conversational experience. Does the music in any way serve to improve or enhance this conversational experience? No – it has the opposite effect.

I recently had lunch at the marina. I was sitting there with my friends 3 feet from a speaker installed above us blasting away at full volume. I called the manager over. I asked for a small favor: to adjust the volume downward. There was a pause and he gave me what some might consider a dirty look and left.

When I was in Los Angeles last winter, I was at the gas station filling up my tank while listening to music from above. It turns out I was listening to Gas Station Radio. That is a true story.

It’s possible my problem of music in restaurants is just one more gratuitous consequence of the aging process – a number of stupid things that never bothered you before now start to bother you. You tell me.

But either way it’s all here to stay. I have no illusions in this regard. And I am old, pushing 80; it doesn’t get much older. Any day now I could drop dead and all my problems would be solved. And it is at this time, when they are lowering the coffin into the grave, that I would appreciate a fine piece of music – some classic, hard-rocking thumper like “Dirty White Boy” by Foreigner. Perfect!