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“Customers who visit these venues will experience fatigue and aural desensitization as they go home,” Orfield said. “Their hearing is not as clear for up to a day after spending an evening there.”
The effects are accelerated for older diners, according to Robert Schlauch of the University of Minnesota’s Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences, because we suffer a decline in how quickly all of our senses process information as we age.
A ‘different voice’
Speakers alone don’t bear all the blame. The space a restaurant occupies, as well as how it’s finished and appointed, all play a role.
When he opened Meritage in a former warehouse in downtown St. Paul, Klein inherited one of the loudest spaces in the Twin Cities. It had tile floors, hard ceilings, mirrors on the wall and large windows — all of which reflect sound. “The noise level has been a challenge from Day One,” he said.
Now that he’s opening a second restaurant — Brasserie Zentral in Minneapolis — building in sound barriers is a priority. “All along, we have been telling our architect that acoustics are going to be important for us,” Klein said.
The new space will have wood floors, acoustic tiles in the ceiling and “a sophisticated sound system, specifically designed to achieve sound masking.”
Chino Latino, one of the first restaurants with a higher-end, higher-volume ambience, is going to stay loud and proud — because that’s what its clients want, said Phil Roberts, CEO and chairman of Parasole Restaurant Holdings. “It’s not a restaurant where you go to have that quiet talk.”
That makes it quite different from some of Parasole’s other restaurants. “Each one has to speak with a different voice,” Roberts said. “Some are meant to be lively, for a younger clientele, with the energy and acoustics needed to match that groove. Manny’s is a little quieter, but not a lot. We play it differently with Pittsburgh Blue. It’s suburban, and you’re not going to get the 23-year-old on date night.”
Though he’s not 23, Jason Berglund opts for lively restaurants over those he considers more restrained.
“There’s definitely a place and time for the likes of Capital Grille, Al Vento or La Belle Vie,” said the 35-year-old Minneapolis man. “But places like 112 Eatery, Travail and Manny’s are just so much more fun. And the sounds of people enjoying themselves is the main part of that.”
While Klein prefers to be able to chat with friends when he goes out to dinner, he recognizes that not every restaurant caters to conversation.
“There are some really good restaurants that I have a hard time having a conversation in,” he said. “But you have to take a restaurant in the context of what it’s trying to be.”
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643