I was having coffee with a friend in a Hertel Avenue restaurant, solving the world’s problems. We could think of no solutions but did agree that one of the burning questions of our time is this: When did restaurants become so noisy?
Not long ago, fine restaurants were in some ways like a church or library – a sanctuary; a quiet, peaceful, pleasantly relaxing place to be. Waiters drifted silently on crepe-soled shoes, gliding among the tables with not even a rustle of their order pads. Soft music soothed the diners as they enjoyed civilized conversation, good food and drink, a brief haven from the outside world.
Buffalo has many fine restaurants but, unfortunately, they seem to have fallen into a pit of noise, a malevolent circle that belongs somewhere in Dante’s Inferno where there is no escape from the bang and clatter of dinnerware on hard tables and the roar of people shouting at each other like mountaineers across a valley.
One of our (formerly) favorite restaurants is on Delaware Avenue. Its food was excellent – and I am sure it still is – and we enjoyed many visits. But over the years the din within its walls escalated.
“Why do you have it so noisy in here?” I shouted to the waitress.
“Because,” she shouted back, but with a nice smile, “that’s the way people want it!”
“Is it?” I asked. “But why?”
She glanced around, then leaned in, speaking more softly, as if sharing a secret. “Because,” she said, “all this noise makes them think they’re having a good time.”
That young lady understood something that I had not: we Americans have come to a place where incessant noise and bruising stimulation, like at a football game, has become necessary to “have a good time.” When I’m at a football game I scream, shout and groan as much as the next guy, but that’s not what I want during dinner. Can’t we have quiet good times anymore? Apparently not.
I abandoned that restaurant, unhappily giving up its excellent food, and went in search of other, hopefully more pleasant, atmospheres. But all seem to have taken the same path. I wonder what the point is of all the loud talking? They can’t hear what anyone is saying anyway.
“Maybe,” my friend suggested, stirring his coffee, “we create the noise precisely so we can’t hear ourselves or anyone else; it keeps us isolated. Maybe we don’t really want the noise at all, but the isolation. The noise gives us that. And all these restaurants are unwittingly aiding and abetting that growing isolation.”
He was on a roll and getting pretty seriously philosophical about it. But I was not convinced.
“C’mon,” I said, “that’s really far-fetched. Whatever the reasons might be, the fact is that restaurants are getting too noisy and they’re no longer so pleasant.”
“Well,” he said, “maybe we ought to ask the restaurant owners. Ask them: Is that what your customers want? All that noise? Are you sure?”
I think that’s a good idea. Perhaps some restaurateur in Buffalo will take the hint, think about it and begin to do something to reduce the din. We might even get back to that fine restaurant on Delaware Avenue.
“You know,” my friend said, “I just realized that it’s quiet in here. This place is an exception. We can actually have a conversation!”
“You’re right,” I said. “We’ll have to come back here.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “Often.”