How Does a Nice Meal at Discovery Green Sound?

The Wall Street Journal‘s Katy McLaughlin picks on a few loud restaurants:

Many of the most cutting-edge, design conscious restaurants are introducing a new level of noise to today’s already voluble restaurant scene. The new noisemakers: Restaurants housed in cavernous spaces with wood floors, linen-free tables, high ceilings and lots of windows—all of which cause sound to ricochet around what are essentially hard-surfaced echo chambers.

Upscale restaurants have done away with carpeting, heavy curtains, tablecloths, and plush banquettes gradually over the decade, and then at a faster pace during the recession, saying such touches telegraph a fine-dining message out of sync with today’s cost-conscious, informal diner. Those features, though, were also sound absorbing. . . .

Restaurateurs often say the only complaints they get about noise are from older clientele. As people age—and particularly when they are 65 or older—they often lose acuity in hearing high-frequency sounds, making it harder to understand speech, says Mark Ross, a professor emeritus of audiology at the University of Connecticut.


But even some younger diners are irked. Danielle Stillman, 23, says she spent $70 on a graduation dinner for a friend at The Grove in Houston about six months ago. The goal of the meal was to catch up after not seeing each other for a while, but Ms. Stillman could barely hear her friend speak, she says.

“I want to have a conversation without having to scream ‘what?’ at the top of my lungs,” says Ms. Stillman, an energy analyst.

The Grove, in a new building with glass walls and hardwood floors, has acoustical bunting layered behind boards in the wood ceiling, says partner Robert Del Grande. There is also a quieter room with carpeting. Nevertheless, when the restaurant is full, it can get loud, he says.

Also included for your listening pleasure, free: 3 separate noise samples from Block 7 Wine Company!

Photos: Bradford Gathright (The Grove exterior at Discovery Green) and skimonster2020 (Grove dining room)

21 Comment

  • I agree with the irked 23-year old here. Many of these new restaurants are cost cutting by not having carpets, table clothes, and even curtains.

    Some restaurants try to claim “green” because they don’t have to wash these items, but that just a advertising angle.

    If I’m looking for fine dining, I’m avoiding places like these. There are plenty of restaurants that may be just below the “fine” dining tier with just as good food and more comfortable eating environment.

  • Exactamently.
    Design and function have to overlap.
    For instance, a hard-surfaced, shoji-screened dining room is intended for intimates who have reverence for the food experience and who when speaking at all do so with hushed voices.
    Kind of like church, the place where the voice from the pulpit carries to the seats of the latest arrivals… as well as, from each person to every other person!

  • *the irked 23 year old waves at Swamplot*

    Sorry I couldn’t fit in a shout-out. ;-)

  • Last time I was at Block 7, I asked for the music to be turned down, and within 2 minutes it was down considerably. Management even came back to ask “Is that better?” But be forewarned, they have live music on Sunday evenings, and there is very little they can do about the volume at that point.

  • I agree that these restaurants are just too loud, and it creates an unpleasant dining experience (and I’m in my early 30s).

    The one time I went to Block 7 it was with a group of six or seven. I don’t remember the music being a problem (but it might have been), but I do remember how loud the place was. It was nearly impossible to talk with anyone except the person sitting right next to you. I won’t go back unless my group is 3-4 people, max, and even then there are other places that are quieter and more conducive to good conversation over a bottle of wine…or two.

  • I really cannot relax at loud noisy restaurants. You can’t have an intimate or any kind of conversation without everyone hearing!

  • Funny thing is last week I was entertaining all week, Wednesday @ Perry’s in the Woodlands and then Benjy’s on Washington Thursday. There was no way I could have had the type of client dinner I needed in a place like Benjy’s or Block 7 but I understood that going into it, hence Perry’s getting $600 of my company’s hard earned money. In some ways the old school places like Perry’s may pick up more of my business. Benjy’s was fantastic and the noise level was tolerable but it was a very differnt type of client that I took there.

  • Have you been to a Rockets game lately? Even during timeouts and between quarters, it is a constant high decibel barage of ads and music. A game isn’t really a chatfest, but I want to be able to speak w/o screaming and hear what others say. Otherwise, we might as well go alone.
    The Astros were like that when they first moved to Enron Field, but things are very toned down now – all to the good. And their not great team seesm to have great attendence numbers anyhow.

    Speaking of which – Will Toyota Center need a new name? Given all the Chinese ads in the arena, how about the “Yili Low Lactose Milk” Center.

  • finness: I stopped going to Rockets games for that very reason. I couldn’t take it any more.

  • Now let’s be fair here. I’m sure plenty of people of all ages have enjoyed plenty of meals at both Block 7 and the Grove. I was at the Grove saturday night at 8:30 – the place was packed and I had no trouble hearing my dining companion. I actually walked away thinking “what a lovely restaurant and dining experience.” (The food was very good but didn’t blow me away.) It wasn’t exactly quiet, but there were tables around us with people from multiple generations and everyone seemed to be having a good time from my vantage point. And I’ve had non-shouted conversations at Block 7 too – but agree that the bar area can be loud.
    Everyone’s experiences are going to be different at any given restaurant – so I just wanted to provide some counterpoint to the opinions so far posted here. And for context – I am very sensitive to noise and am generally not interested in loud see and be seen scenes.

  • It’s ridiculous to complain about the noise level at The Grove. Instead, one shoul;d focus their complaints on the crappy service and mediocre food.

  • I routinely pick up lunch at the Luby’s at San Felipe and Post Oak. When it moved to the new “modern” digs next door, the much larger open dining area and open tiled kitchen was noticeably louder. They have a lot of elderly regulars, and the first day in, i noticed some of them looked like they were in pain from the noise. I know they got numerous complaints. I’m not sure what they did to help it, if anything. Maybe i’m just used to it now.

  • i’m completely shocked that posters on this site are only complaining.

    if any of you thought that benjy’s, the grove, or block 7 was really going to be a quiet intimate dinner, then shame on you. block 7 is in a freaking warehouse for heavens sake. come on–really? it’s like saying popeye’s is so awful because the fried chicken is greasy.

    hopefully those of you complaining can find some more traditional luby’s for your 5:30 dinners.

  • Thanks to Original Jay for pointing out the error of my ways. How foolish of me to expect to be heard at normal levels of conversation. I feel so enlightened!

  • Original Jay,

    When you pay the price that is charged at Block 7 for the food (which is good food), you wish you could truly enjoy it with the other diners at your table.

    I love Block 7 and some of the other loud restaurants, but I can only go there with people who know what they are getting into.

  • A few years late, but Max’s Wine Dive says “Hi”. Even for a boisterous 30-something like me who genuinely enjoys a festive atmosphere, Max’s was needless noisy to the extreme.

  • Seems like there is pretty much a consensus that these places are too loud, even for young people, but I am yet another young person who thinks it’s too noisy at the Grove.

    I would say the majority places that I want to go after 6pm on a Friday or Saturday night are way too noisy even at half capacity. I just don’t understand the echo chamber philosophy. Maybe some young people feel like they are in a more “happening” place if it’s uncomfortably loud. Look at all these people!!! Listen to how noisy this place is!!! It must be fun!!! That’s my theory anyway.
    I for one don’t like to lose my voice halfway through the night just because I’m trying to talk to somebody 18 inches away from me.
    I think that noise levels will be the next “industrial hygiene” issue in the future, since many places have already addressed smoke.

  • Noise = Energy. When I go to restaurant and everything is hushed, it feels as if all the energy is sucked out of the place. I would also suspect that less energy means less eating, drinking and merrymaking. I guarantee you that it’s not all about green and modern design.

  • There’s been much incidental info over 50 yrs or so (and specific studies since the 80’s) showing that increasing noise in drinking establishments predicts higher rates of consumption. I’m sure that’s in every every bar-owner’s bag of tricks now. In fact, there’s a point in the evening when the lights are perceptably dimmed and the background music gets louder.

  • Like offering salty snacks to make people thirsty?
    Maybe noise keeps people from lingering. In a popular eatery, you gotta turn those tops!

  • In fact, studies show bright lights, hard surfaces and warm colors cause patrons to move on (to turn over tables – think fast food establishments.)
    But to sell liquor, the place has to keep them in their seats…