Dinner Disruptions: Noisy neighbors at a restaurant

by epi on December 11, 2012

Q: When I’m in a restaurant,  often there’s a nearby conversation that’s several times louder than necessary.  Is there any way to politely and tactfully ask them to be quieter?  And whose responsibility is this: the restaurant’s, or those being disturbed?  I don’t want to offend the other group by telling them to keep it down, and then spend the rest of the night sitting near people I’ve just enraged.

A: By far the best solution is to discreetly ask the restaurant’s mâitre d’ or head waiter to have a word with the loud table.  While it may be tempting to approach such a group yourself, the results of this tactic (as you point out) can often be worse than the original problem.  Another option is simply to ask that your group be reseated at a different table, away from the offending party.  To some people, this approach may seem like a cop-out, but in fact, it may be the path of least resistance to enjoying your night out.  Personally, I prefer taking the path of least resistance whenever possible.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Country Girl December 11, 2012 at 5:50 am

I don’t see an open thread for today so I will post here.

My husband and I plan to visit a family friend in his twenties who was in an accident a few months ago, suffered a brain injury, and is recovering the hospital. I’ve heard that he seems to be speaking fairly well and is starting to move about with a little assistance.

I’d like to bring him something fun or useful since he is supposed to be in the hospital for at least a couple more weeks, but don’t really know what is appropriate in a situation like this. He enjoys sports although I don’t know specific teams.

Also I’ve read that one should announce one’s self when greeting someone who has suffered this type of injury, but I don’t want to insult him if he does remember us. (He has been on family vacations with me and was a part of our wedding, so we weren’t close on a daily basis, but we are a bit more than acquaintances.) Does anyone have any experience with this type of injury or ideas on how to handle the visit?

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Just Laura December 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Good morning,
I work with college students with disabilities; among them, TBIs are common (unfortunately) due to sports injuries, car accidents, or injuries sustained in combat. As with any injury, the functional impact varies with each person. You’ve described a very serious TBI, and I’m glad that your friend is communicating again. Cognitive function will be impaired for a while: He might repeat stories, or operate a little slower than normal. I assume you’ve emailed or called in advance to let him know you’re coming. Perhaps another quick contact the day of the visit will refresh his memory so that announcing yourself will be unnecessary. Alternately, a family member could act on your behalf. “Oh look, Jack, it’s Country Girl and Country Boy! We haven’t seen you in so long!”
As for what to bring him, I’d ask him or a relative. He’s probably longing for a recently released book, or a Sports Illustrated, or dying for some M&Ms (check to make sure his nurses allow this).

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Country Girl December 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Thank you Laura, yes it was a very serious accident. And that was about what I was thinking. I’ve been essentially communicating with his mom through a relative and haven’t been able to speak directly with her yet (and he hasn’t got his phone yet). So I am glad to have some good ideas. I was curious about the food thing as well, so perhaps I’ll bypass that since you bring up a good point that it may or may not be allowed. Thanks again!

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Jody December 11, 2012 at 8:58 am

I agree with the EPI advice here; I’ve sometimes asked to be reseated because of this reason. I would add that you should make sure to let the host/maitre d’ know that your request to move has nothing to do with the waiter’s service.

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gail December 11, 2012 at 9:38 am

I agree, I would ask, “Can we move to a table in a quieter location?”

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Elizabeth December 11, 2012 at 11:25 am

I agree that it is perfectly acceptable to request to move tables if seated near a particularly noisy or boisterous bunch. However, the original question stated that the poster was ‘often’ bothered by loud conversations nearby, and that I think is unusual. I can only think of a few times in my life this has happened to me, and if it started happening more often, to the point where it was bothering me, I would do the following: 1. get my hearing checked. Hearing problems aren’t always just deafness where everything is quieter – sometimes only certain frequencies are suppressed while others are not – hence, the apparent loudness of certain noises. 2. I would go to different restaurants with better, deader acoustics. Restaurants with lots of upholstery and intimate booths are better acoustically than open box-like restaurants with smooth hard surfaces. 3. I would go earlier or during non-peak times.

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Nina December 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I agree with Elizabeth here. I have fantastic hearing at certain frequencies, with has been annoying to me for years (and actually never done me any good). Soprano women in particular sound like they are speaking inside my brain when they are in fact several tables away. I used to get really annoyed with such women and think they were being aggressively loud, but now I accept that the problem is me. Being seated near a window with traffic outside often helps me, as some white noise can cushion other sounds a bit.

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Not a kid December 11, 2012 at 7:50 pm

I am dieting and sometimes I like to order a kids meal so that I can get a manageable portion. I understand there are sometimes indications of “10 and under please” or such, usually at sit-down style restaurants. But at a more casual place or fast food type restaurant where that is not stated is there anything wrong with me getting one? I guess my assumption is that the company would like to get at least a little of my business vs not at all and shouldn’t care to whom any certain meal goes, but sometimes I get questioning looks from the order-taker or “Will you be ordering something besides this?” that make me feel like I am ‘cheating’ the business. Any thoughts?

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Just Laura December 12, 2012 at 12:37 am

I get kids’ meals at McDonalds. I’ve never thought anything of it. When they start serving the #2 with a toy, maybe then I’ll get the adults’ meal. ;)

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