Brooklyn Restaurant Bans Conversation — Say, What?

ThinkStockMost people dread awkward pauses at dinner, but one New York restaurant is encouraging such moments with “silent meals.”

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On Sunday, Eat, a Greenpoint, Brooklyn, bistro that serves local, organic fare, hosted its first-ever silent dinner, serving a $40 four-course meal to 17 patrons. The only rule: No talking.

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“This was an idea that had been brewing for a long time,” Eat manager Nick Nauman told Yahoo Shine. “In my early 20s, I visited a monastery that served a silent breakfast each morning. The purpose was to teach people to focus on the taste, texture, and nutritional value of the food. When you do so, the entire eating experience improves.”

The event was an experiment for the restaurant, which opened in 2003 as a record store that served coffee, and Nauman hopes to make silent dinners a regular event. It’s a novel idea at a time when restaurants seem to be louder than ever. As noted in a story published in Esquire, upscale restaurants did not play loud music 100 years ago. Classical music was the norm, but things changed once Prohibition got underway. The secret drinking combined with festive jazz tunes created an infectious party atmosphere, Esquire recounts, and restaurants soon began hiring swing bands and charging customers at the door. Cut to 1998, when Mario Batali, owner of the New York City Italian eatery Babbo, decided to blast rock music by the band Guns N' Roses into his dining room, and restaurant noise became a mainstay. 

But silent dining may now be a welcome concept—according to a report by ABC News, restaurant noise is the second most common complaint of diners (next to poor service), with 19 percent citing loud decibels as the biggest irritant.

At 7:30 p.m. on Sunday night, diners filed into Eat. After an announcement to “speak now or forever hold your peace” and a gentle warning that rule breakers would have to finish their dinners on a bench outside, dinner was served: a chili basil summer squash soup, arugula salad with a curry vinaigrette and Rupert cheese, followed by an entree choice of penne whole wheat pasta with eggplant puree or scallops and calamari with buttered wine sauce.

Aside from silverware clinking, coughing, and people furiously texting under the table, diners adhered to the rules. “We had a last-minute cancellation and were able to accommodate a group of three women celebrating a birthday,” says Nauman. “They laughed at first but were curious enough to sit down.” And after dinner, a friend of Nauman's who’s known for his audible dinner noises—“yum, ummm!”—said the silence made him more self-aware.

Any New Yorkers curious to take a vow of silence can join the next silent night at Eat on Oct. 6. Nauman also plans to roll out more dinnertime events such as readings and performances.

Restaurants have long used sensory deprivation tactics to enhance the dining experience. According to a story in the New York Times, the concept of “dining in the dark” originated at a Paris restaurant Dans Le Noir, in 1998 as a way to encourage people to experience daily life through the eyes of blind people (who made up most of the staff). Guests are seated in the dark next to strangers and not allowed to see what they order. They are shown photos of their meals after they finish eating. In July, the Los Angeles-based Italian restaurant Bucato banned cell phone use, saying the habit contributes to “gastro ADD.” A nearby hamburger joint called Father’s Office has banned ketchup in favor of condiments such as lemony aioli. Customers have been known to smuggle it in. 

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