Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Musical Menu for Indigestion

One of the most pleasing things about my recent trip to Madrid was the discovery that sit-down restaurants there, where serious diners go, almost never have music in the background. People go to eat and talk. They don't need a mish-mash of music thumping away in the background to add burnish to their lives. But such is not the case in North America.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece up today titled:

How Restaurants Make Music Go with Food:
Rap builds up to peak speed at dinner hour or jazz standards; chefs and restaurateurs have options with digital streaming and DJs for hire

I wanted you to get the full picture as revealed in the sub-heading. Ah, exactly how I want to experience my Coquilles St-Jacques followed by a nice Dover Sole: with rap building up to peak speed, not so much in the background as pounding away loud enough to make the cutlery rattle. Now that's fine dining! Sadly, the cultural decay is even revealed in the botched grammar in the sub-head. But let's let the writer reveal the full horror:
At Charlie Bird in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, diners hear hip-hop from The Notorious B.I.G. while they twirl their tagliatelle. A few blocks away at Carbone, lobster ravioli comes with 1960s love songs such as “Just One Look.” 
Restaurant playlists have a critical role in shaping a diner’s experience and an establishment’s image. Music may make guests feel upbeat or calm. The right playlist can ward off a stuffy customer and attract a stylish one. It may also prevent the staff mutinies that come with hearing the same song 10,000 times.
One of the crucial restaurant management failures I have noticed recently is allowing your 20-something staff to pick the music while your 50-something guests grit their teeth in discomfort. But yes, the right playlist can certainly ward off this stuffy customer, never to return! Here is how one chef puts it:
“I think it’s possible to drink great Burgundy, eat great food, and listen to music that makes your head bob at the same time,” says Charlie Bird chef Ryan Hardy, describing himself and his business partner as “hip-hop heads” who wanted restaurant guests to feel like they were being invited into their homes. To Mr. Hardy, that meant music would play a prominent role, with few apologies for it being predominantly rap and containing explicit lyrics. “If you can’t handle it as an adult in downtown New York City, you can’t handle it,” Mr. Hardy says.
Oh, it is certainly possible to drink great Burgundy, eat great food and listen to head-banging music all at the same time--but the effect on your digestion is likely to be unfortunate. Every single place I have ever eaten where the music was aggressively bad in this way were, without exception, poor dining experiences. With all the kitchen staff bobbing away, who is actually paying attention to the food? That final sneering comment, “If you can’t handle it as an adult in downtown New York City, you can’t handle it,” is both condescending and tautological.

One of the songs mentioned as being particularly effective is this one, Wale’s “Lotus Flower Bomb.” I can't find a complete non-cover version on YouTube, but this brief excerpt might give you the idea:

Here is an interesting quote from the article:
“Light, color, sound, people, and food. If one of those is miscalibrated, you run amok,” says Sean Sullivan, a vice president at the parent company for Atlanta-based chef Ford Fry’s eclectic mix of 10 restaurants.
Notice the order: people and food come last. There is something deeply ironic going on here, I think. The culture has reached a point of considerable decline. People are more and more narcissistic and need a constant, glorifying soundtrack even when they are eating. The irony is that it seems that this narcissism is a kind of vacuum. Instead of sitting with friends talking about themselves, they need some kind of musical cues to tell them who they are and what sort of mood they should be in.

As a kind of finale, let's have a little Notorious B.I.G. to clear the palate:

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