- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 24, 2005

Q: My husband and I went to a top-rated restaurant in town recently. The food was terrific and the ambience perfect, but it turned into the dinner from hell. Across from us was a group of three young women, one of them obviously three sheets to the wind. She spoke in piercing shrieks, laughing so hard and loud our wineglasses shook.

Does a restaurant have any obligation to ask patrons to keep their voices down if their behavior is obviously bothersome to others? What is the protocol when it comes to disruptive diners? I wanted to say something, but I didn’t have the nerve.

A: In kinder, gentler times, an icy frown would have sufficed to let the offending parties know they had exceeded the bounds of propriety in a public place. Or, if that didn’t cow them, perhaps a polite but firm remonstrance on the order of, “Would you please mind keeping it down?”

These days, however, it would be foolhardy to engage in any sort of direct confrontation in a restaurant, especially the sort in which a boisterous clientele is the norm. Things can escalate quickly, perhaps even turn violent when some hothead feels “dissed” or a “war between tables” ensues.

Better to let the restaurant handle it. Ask your server to call over a manager, then explain the problem. The easiest solution is to be reseated elsewhere, although this, of course, may not be your preferred solution or even be possible in a crowded venue. In any case, it is the restaurant’s responsibility to deal with your reasonable request to enjoy your (pricey) meal in relative peace.

In the end, the management should be willing to ask disruptive patrons to quiet down or leave the premises if the problem gets serious enough to require such action.

CAVEAT EMPTOR: Note that above I said “relative” peace. If you want a quiet, romantic night with soft lights and music and patrons speaking in whispery tones — be realistic. Your best bet isn’t some trendy hot spot where single twentysomethings are jammed six deep at the bar and the techno sounds pump progressively higher after 8 p.m.

If you are unsure what to expect from a particular restaurant, ask about the likely “atmosphere” when you book your reservation.

Here’s what two prominent local restaurateurs had to say when I discussed your question with them.

mJay Coldren, general manager, IndeBleu: “I continually tell my staff to alert the management immediately when they get a complaint. If a guest wishes to be moved, we will, of course, ‘upgrade’ them to another table as soon as possible. We may also monitor the situation by standing near the noisy table and establishing eye contact with the people seated there. If that doesn’t calm things down, we identify someone in the party who seems responsible, a more mature-looking person, perhaps the host, and then ask them to keep it down. It’s a tricky situation, because we want to keep everybody happy and don’t want one group blowing up at another. If things get really ugly — which almost never happens — we will call our trained security personnel and let them handle it.”

mFranco Nuschese, owner of Cafe Milano: “If the boisterous guests were using off-color language or making obnoxious comments or appeared to have drunk too much, I would ask them to tone down both the volume and content. Depending on availability, I would offer to move the unhappy guests to a different table, if possible, and comp some element of their meal or provide an extra — unless I felt their complaint had no validity. I also would be evaluating the situation in the context of how many people were at each table, the stage of meal service each table was at, and the overall atmosphere at the time. A full restaurant on Saturday evening at 10 … is much noisier than a Tuesday luncheon crowd. Lesson to be learned: If you are planning a particularly quiet or intimate meal, ask for a table away from the mainstream when you make your reservation.”

Address your questions on etiquette and protocol to Kevin Chaffee, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002 or send e-mail to [email protected] times.com.


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