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How Silent Is the Silent Meal?

A quiet zone in Brooklyn

It seems fair to say that a meal without good conversation is never going to be a great meal. It’s arguable that good food is, in fact, just part of a good meal. But there’s another point of view on the topic. A New York City restaurant, named Eat, via bostonherald.com, is emphasizing food in exclusion from conversation, with an emphasis on a kind of monastic experience (well, monastic aside from the cost of entry). Eat, based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, holds a “silent meal” one Sunday each month, organized by the restaurant’s Nicholas Nauman.

As Richard Morgan points out in The Wall Street Journal, the individuals doing the dining aren’t the only source of noise, and Eat is onto this:

In a New York magazine essay in July on the “Great Noise Boom”at city restaurants, food critic Adam Platt pointed out the on-purpose loudness of top-dollar spots including Babbo and Le Bernadin, noting that Midtown’s Lavo restaurant “was measured at 96 decibels, louder than the whine of a suburban lawn mower.”

Perhaps, though, the patrons themselves are as much to blame as the establishments, with their awful offal blather and endless prattle about every nuance and sub-nuance of the food. And that’s not to mention the all-too-familiar smartphone zombie meal, where diners are glued to their iPhones and Androids.

Mr. Nauman’s goal was to call out dining’s sound and fury on both sides of the kitchen.

There’s also some great listening notes in Morgan’s piece: “At 8:12, the first muffled sneeze. At 8:20, the first throat cleared.”

And Julia Kramer in Bon Appétit notes that silence can lead to other forms of civility:

While guests at the Brooklyn dinner were reportedly texting, making paper airplanes, and sustaining conversation through hand gestures, there was absolutely none of that at the silent dinner I attended.

Hermione Hoby at theguardian.com mentions Honi Ryan’s traveling silentdinnerparty.com feast as a point of comparison, and touches on what could be perceived as a resulting alienation from the world:

for the next 90 minutes, the only human voice I hear comes from a woman talking loudly into her phone as she walks past on the street. If she had happened to have looked to her left, she would have seen an illuminated restaurant and 21 silent heads turned to look at her.

Perhaps the diners were merely turning their heads at the intrusion, though it seems like a kind of received righteous indignation — external quiet apparently doesn’t always lead to internal quiet.

Details at eatgreenpoint.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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