In this article, the Wall Street Journal's Katy McLaughlin explores the noise factor by profiling a San Francisco restaurant called La Mar Cebicheria Peruana. She writes:
Even as restaurants are ditching style elements that squelch sound, they are bringing in more sources of noise: Open kitchens, lively bar scenes and disc jockeys and iPods programmed with the latest rock music. Loud music can make diners talk louder—which ups the volume even more.
... many restaurateurs often fail to consult with acoustical experts during the design process because of the cost, because the right look is paramount to them or because they believe that their customers actually enjoy the noise.
... David Myers, the chef and owner of Comme Ça in Los Angeles, recently hired a company to install acoustical panels on the ceiling to quiet a restaurant that was so noisy that "I had friends who didn't want to come back because it was so loud," Mr. Myers says.
I'm sure there were a lot of non-friends who felt the same way about Myers' restaurant. Maybe it's a sign of middle age, but restaurant noise matters more to me than it used to matter. It's not pleasant to go to a restaurant where you practically have to shout to be heard by your friend seated less than three feet away.
I wish more restaurant owners gave some thought to this during the interior design phase. They're investing a lot of money to create a space that may be very sleek and glam, yet so noisy that it turns people off.
Brasserie Beck is an excellent restaurant -- one of the best (purely in terms of food quality) in the city of Washington. But the noise level inside is so intense that I don't go there as often as I otherwise would. If you plan to dine there, ask them to seat you as far away from the bar area as possible.