Having had our biennial four-day holiday (can’t go away for longer when you have a menagerie at home) my wife and I were reminded of the challenge to hotels in offering dining spaces where human interaction can progress in any kind of normal way.
Restaurants fall into two main categories, with the optimum sitting between them. We dined at a ‘fine dining restaurant’ in the hotel in which we were staying on our first night. The ambience and table layout did not permit anything resembling normal conversation.
The faint-hearted stared glumly into space while accepting their amuse-bouches and offered only desultory thanks when the next large plate of modern art arrived; and the more adventurous spoke in quick bursts or mumbled whispers in the forlorn hope that no-one else could hear them saying “What does ‘a la foscinato’ mean when referring to a potato?”, or “Do you have any ketchup?”
And it is not just about tables being too close together either, although that does not help. Sometimes the acoustic of a room is just resolutely not conducive to gentle chats.
Add to that a kind of church-like reverence induced by a menu that lurches from the impenetrable to the downright pretentious and over-attentive waiters needing constant reassurance, then you have a recipe for a pervasive unease with no-one prepared to point out that the king is in the altogether.
It is also perhaps partly attributable to the fact that most diners are couples or families on holiday, rather than the great variety of diners to be found in most restaurants the rest of the year.
Other restaurants try to overcome this cathedral tendency with the use of music, instantly running the risk of alienating those who do not like their choice and causing an increase in vocal levels throughout the area.
Being of an age when the parameters of my hearing have compressed, entering a cacophonous pub or dining room results in a swift about-turn and departure.
Not being able to hear what your fellow diner is saying unless it is Brian Blessed is not my idea of a an enjoyable dining experience.
The safest option at holiday time, which is dependent upon the weather, is to dine outside where that option is available.
We did that on our last night, as the horsefly bites will attest. They never promised me a rose garden.
A la foscinato? I made it up.