Restaurants are too damn loud. When the waiter has to crouch down and put his ear next to your mouth as you scream "NOT THE POP TARTS. THE OF DUCK HEARTS!" you know it's not just you.
It's true that aging ears have a particularly difficult time separating conversation from other ambient sounds, but it turns out that diners of all ages are tired of noisy restaurants. In a compilation of complaints on trendy Eater San Francisco, noise was right up there with small plates and Mason jars.
"The noise, the noise, the noise. I don't mind a little buzziness, but when the music and ambient sound gets to such a level that I can't really hear the person across from me, I start wanting the meal to be over as quickly as possible so we can go somewhere else and have a conversation that isn't punctuated by "WHAT?".
Throbbing music, concrete ceilings and communal tables are obviously intended to create "buzziness" and persuade diners that a restaurant is "hot," "happening," and "hip," as Zagat might say. But patrons are complaining--loudly. Zagat's 2014 survey of New Yorkers reports that that noise--along with poor service--is the diners' top complaint. Zagat's, Open Table and Yelp now allow people to rate noise levels, and professional critics have started carrying decibel meters around with them.
While some restaurants seem to be getting the message and are renovating for sound control, many are deaf to the complaints. If you really want to bring back tablecloths you'll have to boycott the worst and complain about noise on social media like Yelp and Open Table. Baby Boomers spend plenty on dining out and if they stop showing up restaurants may get a lot quieter.
Meanwhile, just in case it is you, check out the next generation of hearing assistance gadgets. These are over-the-counter sound amplifiers that use wifi technology and smart phone apps that allow users to fine tune the microphone. At approximately $300-$500, they are considered wearable tech, not hearing aids, which makes them fab, not fogey.
Here's a promo for the Soundhawk, which lets you listen to your wife but look like you're just playing with your phone. How cool is that.