Lately, my boyfriend and I have been ordering out from our favorite local restaurant. It’s not that we love eating at home so much, but because the restaurant, which recently moved to a new space about a block from the old one, has become intolerably loud.

They’ve tried to compensate: There are acoustic tiles installed on the ceiling, and part of the front wall now sports a heavy velvet curtain. Alas, none of this helps; it’s still as loud as a drunken fraternity party in there. When I phone our order in these days, I still have to shout over the phone to get the hostess to hear me, but at least I don’t have to spend all of dinnertime doing so.

In what is rapidly becoming a newspaper chestnut, the San Francisco Chronicle has published one of those “restaurants are way too loud” diatribes that satisfy a deep, angry itch in my psyche. There’s not a whole lot of new territory in this piece—reasons for louder restaurants include minimalist décor; restaurateurs think noise indicates a successful restaurant; the world is a louder place in general—but it does make the interesting point that some noise levels may be more perception than fact. In other words, it may be the genre of the music that’s the problem, not its volume:

‘A restaurant might not seem so loud to me if they’re blaring Frank Sinatra on the stereo,’ says Robert Sweetow, director of audiology and professor of otolaryngology at UC San Francisco. ‘But if it’s Alicia Keys played at the same level, it could very well become earsplitting.’

What do you think: Is this code for “get off my lawn, whippersnappers,” or is there some merit to the Sinatra-versus-Keys theory?

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