Can a restaurant's acoustics impact the way you feel about your meal?

I recently posed the question on Twitter: How important is it to you that a restaurant has manageable acoustics?

This is an ongoing issue at plenty of restaurants I visit, and I get periodic emails about it. Many restaurant critics, including yours truly, include some comment or rating of the noise level when writing a review.

Turns out, it’s a problem area for many, yet restaurants either aren’t responding or, given the cost, are unable to respond.

One of the first to weigh in on Twitter was Clay Nutting, co-owner of the tremendously popular and super noisy LowBrau, the craft beer and sausage spot at 20th and K streets. It’s a great setting with a wonderful beer list. But sometimes, if you want to talk to your buddies about the beer you’re tasting, you’re better off using gestures and making faces.

Everyone thinks that all you have to do is throw up some curtains and put some sound-deadening material on the ceiling and you’ve gone from dreadful to manageable acoustics. Apparently not.

I am reviewing a restaurant this coming Sunday where acoustics are a significant issue. A woman with a loud laugh 20 feet away completely overwhelmed my table. So, what are good and bad acoustics? I occasionally tell people that the only thing worse than a restaurant that’s too noisy is one that’s too quiet.

When most of us go out to eat, we are stepping into a public space and we want to feel the energy and excitement. The proper amount of noise feels like a restaurant or bar is vital and popular. If it’s all hush-hush, it can be a bummer. I’ve been to quiet restaurants where I could overhear everything at the tables near mine. That’s no fun.

I’ve also been to places where hearing a companion at my table was a real strain, with the noise and energy of the room intruding on our personal space. The ideal acoustics, it seems, would be to have noise throughout the room but to engineer it in such a way that it tends to get muffled at the tables, almost as if you’re in a bit of a bubble. You can hear a conversation. You don’t have to strain.

I know several parents of toddlers who are nervous wrecks when they go out to a nice restaurant, fearing their little bundle of joy will start screaming any minute. I had not thought of this, but several parents say they like the place to be noisy (scream muffling?) when they have their kids.

So, how important is it? I would imagine very. And I would have to think that a restaurant that does everything else right but doesn’t get the acoustics right is losing some people.

Some see it as part of the experience, no matter what.

Perhaps most of us are situational, as in:

I hope to look into this issue in more detail for an upcoming story, find out what can be fixed, what can’t, and how much it all costs.