Study Buddy (Challenger): Coffee + cacophony: why is the music so deafeningly loud at some cafes and restaurants?

  • Study Buddy Challenger is for students who want to take their understanding to the next level with more difficult vocabulary and questions that will test their inference skills
  • Check your reading comprehension using the questions below or in the linked Kahoot! game
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Turns out, there is some science behind why restaurants blast music while you eat. Photo: Shutterstock

Content provided by British Council

Read the following text, and answer questions 1-9 below:

[1] Stopping for breakfast at a coffee bar can feel like the equivalent of a trip to the dentist’s chair. Not because you’ve broken a tooth on your crunch wrap filled with hummus, coconut tzatziki and spinach, but because your fillings have been rattled out by the piledriving soundtrack to the obligation to consume food.

[2] How is it that eateries of all descriptions can be so brain-meltingly loud? Is there a decree forbidding the coexistence of conversation and dining in certain establishments?

[3] Is there a further rule that the thump-thump-thumping rhythm of all chew-chew-chewing activities should follow the aural vandalism of rap music? Perhaps these purveyors of food have been brainwashed into believing that offensive lyrics at bunker-busting bomb detonation volume are a natural accompaniment to mastication.

[4] The coffee bar in which this correspondent’s ears were recently nailed to a wall was in New York, but the same sonic assault and battery could have been perpetrated in a certain expensive Vietnamese restaurant in Hong Kong, a cafe in London or a souvlaki joint in Sydney. Not only has the “slow food movement” not caught on worldwide, but restaurants seem to be on fast forward, turned up to 11.

[5] Surprisingly, however, as with the crafty placement of chocolate bars and other impulse-buy goods close to supermarket checkouts, there is some science behind the philistinism.

[6] Studies have shown that loud music draws people in. Believe it or not, it is a case of “the louder the better” for proprietors because eardrum-damaging restaurants are actually perceived to be “happening”. (I’d argue that anyone who subscribes to this notion has already been lobotomised at some previous juncture, but that is for another rant.) No one, it is claimed, wants to walk into a quiet restaurant. No one, clearly, asked my opinion on that point.

[7] Then there’s the idea of “eating to the beat” to consider. Yet more studies claim that the faster and louder the music is in an eatery, the more speedily customers consume food and drink. Also, when patrons become accustomed to the racket going on around them, rather than bailing out before their ears bleed, bafflingly, they remain exactly where they are and spend money increasingly quickly. (This makes for an intriguing counterpoint to those investigations showing that fast-food-joint, floor-affixed furniture is designed to be so uncomfortable as to force eat-in punters to move as quickly as possible.)

[8] Half a block down from that New York coffee bar was what looked like, by 7.30pm nightly, a disco in full party mode with pulsing red lights and music that made the windows quiver. Turned out, it was a sushi bar. They must have been dancing to The B-52’s Rock Lobster.
Source: South China Morning Post, January 25


Play a Kahoot! game about this story as a class or with your friends by clicking on the link here.

Or play on your own below to test your understanding:

1. What does the writer compare having breakfast at a coffee bar to?

2. According to paragraph 2, how does playing loud music in restaurants affect the dining experience?

3. What does the phrase “aural vandalism” in paragraph 3 suggest about how the writer finds rap?
A. soothing
B. aggrieving
C. irritating
D. overbearing

4. Find a word or phrase in paragraph 3 that has the same meaning as “chewing”.

5. Why does the writer mention the various cities in paragraph 4?

6. In your own words, explain what the writer thinks about people who believe restaurants with loud music are trendy. (2 marks)

7. How do the following factors mentioned in paragraph 7 affect diners’ behaviour? (2 marks)
(i) music played at high speed and volume
(ii) uncomfortable furniture

8. Decide if the statements below are True, False or Not Given in the text.
(i) There is a scientific explanation as to why stores place chocolate and sweets by the checkout counter.
(ii) Those who subscribe to the “slow food movement” believe in the health benefits of eating in a quiet environment and at a leisurely pace.
(iii) Restaurants that play rap music are more profitable than those that do not.
(iv) The writer enjoys rap in the comfort of his home but cannot stand it when it is played in eateries.

9. With which group of people is this article most likely to resonate?
A. interior designers studying the latest trends for food and beverage establishments
B. restaurant owners who are looking to attract a younger crowd
C. patrons who enjoy a tranquil environment in cafes and eateries
D. none of the above

Working in a cafe can be difficult when the shop insists on playing loud music. Photo: Shutterstock


1. a trip to the dentist’s chair
2. It prevents people from eating and having a conversation at the same time.
3. C
4. mastication
5. It is to show how the issue of loud music in restaurants is not specific to New York.
6. The writer thinks that they are ridiculous as he cannot understand why people would want to dine in a noisy restaurant.
7. (i) They stay in the restaurant, consuming food and drink more quickly and spending money at a faster pace.
(ii) They finish eating and leave as soon as possible.
8. (i) T; (ii) NG; (iii) NG; (iv) F
9. C

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