It turns out that, at least for smart restaurateurs, making the dining experience ridiculously noisy is good for business: people buy more drinks per hour, and they finish eating and leave sooner.
George Prochnik at The Daily Beast says the drive for higher profits isn’t the only reason restaurants are noisy. There’s also been a general trend toward a type of decor that magnifies sound instead of muffling it (think concrete floors and hard surfaces everywhere), and an architect tells Prochnik that people want the feeling of an “urban hoedown” when they go out to eat these days, not a refined/stuffy experience.
But then there’s the money angle:
In the mid-1980s, researchers at Fairfield University demonstrated that people increased their rate of chewing by almost a third when listening to faster, louder music, accelerating from 3.83 bites a minute to 4.4 bites a minute. Stoked with data of this nature, chain restaurants, such as Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill, developed computerized sound systems that were preset to raise the tempo and volume of music at hours of the day when corporate wanted to turn tables.
And a study completed in the summer of 2008 in France found that when music was played at 72 decibels, men consumed an average of 2.6 drinks at a rate of one drink per 14.51 minutes. When the sound level was cranked up to 88 decibels, the numbers spiked to an average of 3.4 drinks, with one consumed every 11.47 minutes.
Why does this work? Prochnik says it may partly be that you drink and eat more when it’s not easy to talk. But he also says that there may be something going on at the brain chemistry level–that “noise is a real, physical stimulant.” For example, Italian researchers demonstrated that “acoustic stimulation” heightens the effect of ecstasy, in what was likely the best study to participate in ever, and Prochnik claims “soldiers on battle missions crave heavy metal.”
So the next time you’re out with friends at a noisy restaurant, keep an eye on your eating and drinking habits, or you might end up spending more than you planned to before the music kicked in.
“How Restaurants Get You Drunk” [The Daily Beast]