People talking, music playing, kitchen humming... Should restaurants put a cap on volume levels for diners who want to eat in peace, or just let people enjoy their food?
It's so common now that we've grown to accept the noise levels at restaurants and the kopitiam as part of our dining experience. Chinese restaurants, in particular, seem to be getting louder and louder. Can we have a conversation without having to talk at the top of our voices? Can we chat quietly? Not while eating out in Malaysia.
We not only talk a lot but we do it loudly. Decibels have definitely gone up and can be deafening in some popular restaurants. Have you noticed? Nobody gives a hoot about the other diners at the next table. Have you ever seen a restaurant owner approach a boisterous crowd and ask them to tone down?
While Westerners will emphatically say no to such noisy restaurants, it's not the same in our country. The noise factor doesn't come into the equation when one is choosing a restaurant. Recently, an expatriate friend (who's not used to loud diners) stared daggers at the noisy table next to ours. They realised they were being loud and seemed embarrassed – if only for a second. He told them to tone down as the noise was ruining our dinner, but the ensuing quiet lasted for just a while.
Many factors contribute to the noise levels at a restaurant. Firstly, can we blame the design and layout of the restaurant? In Chinese restaurants, could it be the round tables where 10-course meals are served? In order for anyone at the table to talk to the person across, they do have to speak louder.
My personal round table experience is that there are several conversations happening at once. Nosy guests at the table, while chatting with their friends, are also eavesdropping on the conversations next to them and will occasionally interject with their viewpoints. Of course, they need to do it loud and clear to be heard.
What about the inconsiderate people who yell into their mobile phones in lifts or on public transport? They're so loud that everyone can hear their conversation. It's worse at wedding dinners. With so much fun and laughter, a crowd can cause quite a ruckus. The yam seng culture is also license to be really boisterous.
So what's the current prevailing standard in terms of noise level? Can we have a quiet chat and enjoy a peaceful dinner? Would restaurateurs ever think of spending money on noise-cutting equipment?
Another mat salleh friend admits that while he finds restaurants in Malaysia noisy, he's used to it now and doesn’t mind it anymore. In fact, he even laughs out loud himself. It's a 'If you can't beat them, join them' attitude.
One restaurateur did tell me that he would rather have a noisy restaurant than a quiet one. He says the Chinese believe in “the louder the noise, the better” as it denotes prosperity. I guess he means that a noisy restaurant means there's a crowd and the restaurant's doing well. So, a restaurant that's "alive" is the preferred choice apparently. What do you think?