Sound Dining: An Analysis of the Soundscape in New York Fine Dining Restaurants


Lauren Bunnell

Document Type


Publication Date



In the early nineteenth century, travelers from across the globe who visited Paris remarked on what they called a distinctly Parisian phenomenon: the restaurant. By the 1820s, the ?restaurants of the French capital?closely resembled those with which we are familiar today.? It was the restaurant that became the bastion of the new science of gastronomy and of public ?fine dining.? By ?fine dining? I mean a restaurant commended by established critics that ?promises a type of experience,?particularly, one of Parisian tradition, available only to those who could afford the sometimes-exorbitant tab. The ?whole purpose of the restaurant was?to pull a curtain of illusion across the real conditions of production.? This ?curtain-pulling? presents a relationship between the senses of sight and flavor, and indeed scholarship has focused on this relationship.But the obscuring of the ?real conditions of production? removed the sound of that production as well. Even though ?sound level? appeared over a decade ago as its own assessment category in the New York Times restaurant reviews, scholars have not theorized the relationship of sound to the Paris-derived fine dining tradition. My analysis of these Times reviews from 2000 to the present begins to redress this, and shows that New York fine dining establishments maintain the Parisian ?curtain of illusion? by maintaining a low sound level. My analysis furthermore surveys the general rise in sound level in New York restaurants across the past decade, and considers the implications of this shift in the restaurant soundscape.


David Kasunic




Support provided by:Ford Research Endowment

This document is currently not available here.