I was in a restaurant the other evening and pretty well everything was perfect. The table looked inviting with lots of white napkins, cutlery and glasses neatly laid out. The staff were friendly and welcoming and the food was good. Plus there was an excellent and well priced wine list. The recipe for a perfect evening you might think, except for one thing…..the music. It was a droning noise with an electronic rhythm pulse and it was horrible. So horrible in fact that we had to ask them to turn it off. Since none of the other patrons asked them to turn it back on I assume a 100% approval rating. The other thing some vibey restaurants do is not only play dreadful music (normally the favourites of the staff) but play it so loud that you can’t hear any conversation. I admit this is partly an age thing but there are times when I haven’t a clue what the waitress is saying when she’s reeling off the specials because all I can hear is a throbbing bass.
What is it about music and eating and why do so many establishments get it so wrong? Rovos Rail used to have a tape which contained bits of Handel’s Messiah including the famous Hallelujah Chorus. Rousing stuff but not exactly the sort of music to go with eggs and bacon and a view of the Hex River Valley. If you stayed at the breakfast table long enough you could hear it twice because it was on one of those looped tapes. Another hotel in the Cape used to annoy guests by playing rousing Sousa marches at breakfast. I have stayed in places that play opera, jazz, songs from the great musicals and even Bach at mealtimes and none of it works. For a start, the chances of everyone liking the same music are extremely slim so you’re bound to have a few unhappy diners. I can, at a pinch, listen to lightish opera at a meal but I certainly couldn’t cope with Wagner or Berlioz.
So what’s the solution since it seems that most restaurateurs refuse to serve food without the accompaniment of some sort of music? Well, we could treat music listeners like smokers and insist that they occupy a separate room from the real diners but that would still mean that everyone in the room would have to like the same music. In which case we could have different music on different evenings. So you wouldn’t book a Thursday if you didn’t like Frank Sinatra. The best plan though would be to hand out iPods and invite diners to listen to the music of their choice while eating. This would immediately eliminate the need for polite conversation over a meal and would mean that I could be munching my steak to the sounds of Led Zeppelin while you’re having the fish and some Elton John. Best of all though it could mean discerning diners could refuse the iPods and choose to sit in a restaurant where the only accompanying sounds are those of wine being poured, plates being cleared and the chef having a tantrum in the kitchen.