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Jack Zaleski, Published June 14 2009

Zaleski: Dial down noise in restaurants

My wife and I and another couple go out for dinner at a Fargo or Moorhead restaurant at least once a week. The choices are many – from high-end places to mid-range family restaurants to bargain cafes, diners and buffets. We generally like the mid-range options – either a chain outfit or a locally owned place. Food is good, priced fairly and service is usually outstanding.

But then there is the noise.

At first we thought it was just us aging baby boomers getting cranky about the cacophony and the selection of background music. I mean, gosh, some places have the acoustics of an empty grain bin. The music that assaults our dinner space is first, too loud, and second, likely chosen by the youngish wait staff for their edification, not for the auditory comfort of families with kids, older adults and baby boomers like my group.

I chalked up our irritation to generational disconnect. Our dining party started to favor restaurants where noise and music were not shattering the water glasses. There are lots of choices in town.

But then came a happy revelation. It’s not just us. A survey in the July issue of Consumer Reports magazine found that the single biggest complaint from customers about restaurants is – you guessed it – noise. The noise category included loud customers and crowded tables, but I’m convinced obnoxious music and the acoustical bell-chamber character of the places factored in.

The magazine visited 17 chain restaurants. Fargo has five franchises on the list: Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar; Hooters; Outback Steakhouse (since closed); Texas Roadhouse; T.G.I. Fridays. With the exception of Wild Wings, we’ve dined at all of them frequently. Of all complaints measured by the magazine, noise was the most cited, ranging from 32 percent (Outback) to 53 percent (Texas Roadhouse).

The magazine listed only those chain restaurants with more complaints in all categories than average. The categories were noise, poor service, dirt and grime and food preparation.

I can’t complain about the food and service in the Fargo units of the chains. Both are reliably good. But my little dining-out group (and many others we know) concurs with the noise level: reliably infuriating. We shouldn’t have to shout across the booth to carry on conversations. And with every other patron having to raise their voices to communicate, the racket cranks up, up, up.

So, next time an over-the-top bubbly waitperson says, “Hi, I’m Heidi and I’m here to take care of you tonight,” you could respond, “Hey Heidi, if you really want to help, get ’em to dial down the noise.” Speaking from experience, good luck with that ...


Readers can reach Forum Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521