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Adelaide’s plague of shouty cafés and restaurants

Eat | Drink | Explore

Adelaide’s cafés and restaurants – and their customers – have become so noisy that Rainer Jozeps can’t stomach them any more.

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I love Adelaide. I virtually live in the square mile. I get around by bike in all its seasons, lycra-free, enjoying a mindful immersion in our architectural and cultural landscapes. Every day I visit a café, and frequently a restaurant. They connect me to our urban fabric, to friends and associates, and of course they provide my senses with excitement and joy.

Unfortunately, though, many hospitality houses have become soundwave combat zones: chic, mid-century, turquoise-tiled, bleach-wooded hipster cafes with independently roasted coffee beans, that have become sense-loading, aural battlegrounds where inappropriate and dialled-up house music and counter-top grinding and blending industrial machines, battle for decibel supremacy with louder and louder customers.

It’s giving “shouting for drinks” a different meaning.

I don’t want to mention names: the heavens know that investors in new, smartened-up establishments are to be encouraged and supported. But many with great coffee, or magnificent menus, are terrible for the fact that I can no longer hear my thoughts, nor my companions’ voices.

And, as a terrific example of the adaptive resilience of café and restaurant-attending species, I’m pretty sure that customers are stubbornly adapting to this by shouting louder than ever.

Indeed, Charles Spence (Oxford University, Experimental Psychologist) in his peer-reviewed, 2014 study on Noise and its Impact on the Perception of Food and Drink, tells us:

“Noise is currently the second most common complaint amongst restaurant-goers, behind poor service. In fact, over the last decade or two, many restaurants have become so loud that some critics now regularly report on the noise levels alongside the quality of the food.”

Spence goes on to state that…” the evidence now clearly demonstrates that both background noise and loud music can impair our ability to taste food and drink.”

Indeed, background noise has now become so loud it is foreground noise. Other research adds another dimension to this showing that the noisier the wine bar, the more alcohol that’s consumed.

Ferber and Cabanac discovered in their 2017 study that bar clientele rated drinks as more desirable when the background music became louder.

There was a time when people cared about the privacy of their conversation, but perhaps not so today. Yelling is OK.

So, do proprietors believe that there’s an enjoyment quotient with noise levels in their establishment? The louder the room, the better the time guests are having. More social engagement fuelled by the products they’re consuming?

Artificial “buzz” created by poorly designed interiors is forcing up the ante. You don’t have to be a research scientist to observe the over-use of design materials like concrete or timber floors, wall tiles and metal seats, amplifying the absence of “unfashionable” softeners like window furnishings, carpets and table-cloths.

Customers are being crammed in higher concentrations to maximise the proprietor’s rental cost per square metre. The resulting echo chamber in many cafés and restaurants finds guests who seem willing to shout louder and louder to be heard.

Or, perhaps there’s a new generation of clients who just don’t care about the personal (aural) space of others? When four or more gather around a table, multiple conversations are taking place around it, so the volume has to rise. Duplicate this over many tables and the noise becomes intolerable.

There was a time when people cared about the privacy of their conversation, but perhaps not so today. Yelling is OK.

Sadly, for the proprietors of what would otherwise be wonderful eating and drinking establishments around Adelaide, I won’t be supporting them. The next shout is on someone else. And there are many like me. Or are there?

Rainer Jozeps has been an executive in Australia’s arts industry for more 30 years. He has held senior roles with the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, Adelaide Festival Centre, West Australian Ballet, Australian Dance Theatre and Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

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