The loudness of coffee shops

The coffee shop was already loud. The walls, floor, and ceiling of the Caribou are all made of sound-bouncy materials. The equipment behind the counter is loud to begin with and is not muffled by any structure. The barista has developed the typical barista habit of banging shit on other shit as loud as he can and as often as he can.

Then in walked the big loud highly annoying Christians from the local seminary….

…I am sitting at the far south end of the coffee shop where it is dark, and they are sitting at the absolute other end of the coffee ship, by the windows. I can hear every word they say. It is essentially a business meeting between people running a public outreach program for a local seminary to celebrate their “year of the priest.” There are people who are on board with this and people who are not, I’ve got their names and their positions on these various issues, and know enough about them that I could probably call the HR office at this seminary and get a few people fired for HIPAA violations. They are loud enough hat the incessant banging of coffee and espresso making devices by the barista is a mere background much like the “soft brush drum” percussion button on the Hammond organ.

The whole loud coffee shop issue is a problem and I want you to join me in fixing it. You know what I am talking about. Just now, one of the people who works here was adjusting the muffins in the “bakery” section. It involved banging. Why. Are. You. Banging. The. Muffins????? When coffee drinks are being made there are very loud noises of grinders, steamer, and whatever. In between coffee drinks being made, the barista, who is a six foot four big guy with a tiny little beard (and he is a nice fellow) saunters back and forth behind the counter banging shit on other shit. Never mind the sirens going by outside (Autumn? Is that you?) and the screaming kids, which is somewhat more normal and expected.

But it does not have to be this way. I promise you that this is true.

The other day, I was at T-1 Rebuild. T-1 Rebuild is the newest, largest Target store in the region. It is the location of T-1, the very first Target, and recently, it was leveled and replaced with an entirely new Target. It is the biggest and bestest Target ever. There is a coffee shop in that Target (a commercial variety, I can’t remember if it is a Starbucks or what). I have noticed that that Target’s coffee shop is totally quiet. Try it. If you live near T-1 Rebuild, to over there and get an espresso drink that involves steamed milk. You will barely hear them make it. Sit down and have your drink while someone else orders a drink. The barista will clean out the machines and NOT bang shit on other shit while doing so.

Somewhere up the line, at Target Central, it was determined that the coffee shop in Target would be quit. So the memo went down the line.

To: Manger of Coffee Shop in Target
Re: Noise

Don’t be noisy.

The Management

And that was all it took. The coffee shop has quiet equipment which is somewhat noise-shielded form the public area. The baristas are instructed to not bang shit on other shit. There is very little noise and no annoyance.

Ditto the coffee shop at the book store nearest here. We were over there the other day getting a baby naming book, and I went over to check it out. I pretended to browse through the magazines as I watched people order coffee drinks.

The machines were relatively quit, and relativity noise shielded, and the barista was not banging shit on other shit at all.

It can be done, people. A coffee shop does not have to be a shop of horrors when it comes to loud noise. I know that one off the counter arguments to what I am saying is that the quiet coffee shops to which I refer have automatic espresso machines, and thus don’t make the banging and grinding noise. I do not care. This is not important to me. I am an archaeologist. I know all about banging shit on shit. It can be done loudly, it can be done with reckless abandon. The procedure can be adjusted so metal is banged on a sound absorbing substance so it is only half as loud. You don’t have to bang shit when you are adjusting the muffins. Muffin adjusting can be done in virtual silence, as a matter of fact.

The Big Loud Christians on the other end of the room are of course an entirely different problem. Maybe a little humility would help there.

Comments

  1. #1 Kammy
    July 7, 2009

    “Why. Are. You. Banging. The. Muffins?????”

    Because they’re hawt? ;)

  2. #2 Annick
    July 7, 2009

    I used to work at a Christian-owned coffee shop. You could tell the shop was this guy’s dream because he went all-out trying to create a relaxing French-bistro feel. He even went so far as to play accordian music, much to the dismay of his patrons who wanted hymns or Christian “rock”.

  3. #3 CyberLizard
    July 7, 2009

    Grumpy old man much? I can’t wait for the next rant, “You damn kids get off my lawn!” ;-)

  4. #4 Nikki
    July 7, 2009

    Nice muffin banging post.

    Just FYI, though, you misspelled “quiet” a couple of times:

    “Somewhere up the line, at Target Central, it was determined that the coffee shop in Target would be quit.”

    “The machines were relatively quit, and relativity noise shielded, and the barista was not banging shit on other shit at all.”

    Happy coffee-ing!

  5. #5 CyberLizard
    July 7, 2009

    I can’t believe the whole “muffin banging” thing flew right over my head. That’s usually the first thing I’d pick up on. Guess I’m just tired today.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2009

    Just FYI, though, you misspelled “quiet” a couple of times

    I do that all the time. Think thing quiet quite. My motto.

  7. #7 Natasha
    July 7, 2009

    I agree with Cyberlizard, definitely sound a little crotchety! But if the coffee shop were in general quieter, wouldn’t the annoying Christian be even more distracting?
    Oh, and sense we’re correcting typos, the first line of the third paragraph has you all in a ship.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2009

    I was distracted by the NOISE!!!!! The NOISY COFFEE SHIP!!!!

  9. #9 Timp
    July 7, 2009

    I am a barista. I bang shit on shit because of the fast work pace. I will continue to bang shit on shit as long as I work as a barista, thats what we do, bang shit on shit.I have banged some muffins before, though not at work… Have you thought of not hanging around a coffee house? Possibly make your coffee at home and bang your own shit on your own shit?

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2009

    Timp: I’m one of those coffee shop denizens that orders one cup of coffee and tips the barista five bucks, so don’t gimme no crap.

    I’m not saying you can’t bang shit on shit. I’m saying that there should be a softer landing. Bang the metal thingie on wood, not metal.

  11. #11 Naomi Most
    July 7, 2009

    “The Big Loud Christians on the other end of the room are of course an entirely different problem. Maybe a little humility would help there.”

    Sound begets sound, just as Methuselah begot a huge long list of other absurdly long-lived dudes in that weird-ass book.

    The presence of big loud sounds tends to give people the impression that it’s okay to match that decibel level.

    The complications, and where I think it starts to become a decibel arms race, come from the fact that many people have damaged hearing and/or can’t judge how loud they are in relation to their environment.

    And, of course, there’s always the “they’re just assholes” theory.

  12. #12 DuWayne
    July 7, 2009

    While I can’t say it’s as quiet as you might like, my coffeehouse is certainly reasonable. When I go in for my regular times – Tue & Thu mornings, I sit at the counter not four feet from the massive espresso/latte’ machine. They bang the espresso baskets, but it hits wood. They slide things quickly, but also efficiently – little slamming. And they never bang the muffins (at least not out front where the patrons could see – back in the baking area??? – I hope not). There are rubber stops for all the pertinent bits of the dishwasher and said washer has all walls firmly attached to something solid – so no vibration induced loudness.

    There are occasional loud tables, but not obnoxiously loud most of the time – and it is a twenty-four hour alternative to bars kind of place, so you have to expect it at times. There is Jerry, an aspie who is working hard on his socialization and is at the stage where he overdoes the volume – but it is much better than being withdrawn and we love him (at least my friends and I do), so we deal. Then there is another aspie who does better on the volume, but if someone with really strong perfume, cologne or b.o. comes past him, he will usually let out a short, but very loud, very sharp scream.

    The music is occasionally a problem, because whoever is the shift employee (as apposed to backup) gets to pick the tunes. I have in fact, asked baristas what the fuck this shit might be, when they play something obnoxious masquerading as music. But my regular times are when the music will be compatible and if one of them happens to be covering a shift during my regular time, they are kind enough to refrain from playing the vile crap (I am not the only one who goes at these particular times to avoid certain music – I also have, when living in the area, been frequenting this place since they opened sixteen years ago). When I happen in off schedule, I accept what’s on or leave – if it’s bad, I usually just leave.

    Fucking kids today – and that crap they call music…

  13. #13 Stacy
    July 7, 2009

    I’m intimidated if a coffee ship (or any place of business for that matter) is too quiet. I start getting paranoid – thinking that everyone is staring at me.

    I need a little noise so I can relax!

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2009

    Well, yes, the whole point is the noise. Provides cover, provided low level distraction.

    It just has to be the right amount of noise.

  15. #15 bug_girl
    July 7, 2009

    This whole post is just a ploy to increase your traffic by using “muffin banging” as a keyword, isn’t it?

    Why do I never think of these things!

  16. #16 Austin
    July 7, 2009

    I notice many people (myself included) go to coffee shops to perform a kind of magic trick: to be both social and isolated at the same time. Isolated, because often we have our heads in notebooks (paper or otherwise), books, magazines, essays, etc., and don’t really interact with anyone around us. Social, because we’re doing so with a bunch of other people who are doing the same thing, and there’s a kind of “conversation” that takes place between people who aren’t really associating with each other but have something in common.

    The background noise should be just that – noise in the background. It shouldn’t be overbearing, but it also shouldn’t be too quiet.

    My favorite coffee shop is a place called the Library, which has walls of bookshelves covered in books (all of which have been donated and can be read in the shop or purchased for a small fee, the proceeds going towards a charity). Other than the occasional musical act, the place is usually full of the low hum of *life* mixed with the pleasant scent of old books and coffee.

  17. #17 Barn Owl
    July 7, 2009

    Nice rant! :-D

    I’m so crochety and cheap that I tend to avoid coffee shops. $5.00+ for a cup of coffee that might not even be Fair Trade?

    Too bourgeoisie, anyway. If I were going to have a coffee rant, though, it would be about the people at work who buy departmental coffee and use two or three disposable cups per day, because they’re too damned lazy to carry a reusable coffee mug down the hall.

  18. #18 Jason Thibeault
    July 7, 2009

    I don’t frequent any coffee shops myself, though in my university days I worked in one for about a year.

    (Yes, Tim Horton’s.)

    The ambient noise, I am told, is exceptionally good for studying. Most of the students who spent any time in there, had their laptops and/or books spread out and would suck back coffee after coffee (ladies trended toward cappuccino), as the alternative most nights was to either try to study with their own music on earphones to drown out the wild partying or obnoxious music, or head on over to the student union building and try to study amongst the laptop-toting LAN gamers playing Counterstrike around the network pack poles.

    While the ambient noise was usually kept to a minimum, the occasional customer would break it with their own raucus laughter or instruments — it got so we had to implement a no instruments policy after one fellow brought in a didgeridoo (I kid you not) and played it for an hour despite repeated requests to stop. He and his friends also smelled heavily of the sweet leaf, but that was incidental I’m sure.

  19. #19 James Hanley
    July 7, 2009

    I am a barista. I bang shit on shit because of the fast work pace. I will continue to bang shit on shit as long as I work as a barista, thats what we do, bang shit on shit…. Have you thought of not hanging around a coffee house?

    So don’t come to my fucking coffee shop and spend your money there! Clearly this guy is a bit unclear about the source of his salary, and the fact that he’s in a customer service operation. That kind of attitude’s begging for a quick return of a hot cuppa right in the kisser. And that’s a lot of arrogance for someone doing a job that requires minimal intelligence.

    And in case you hadn’t noticed, barista, Greg noted that other coffee shops don’t have all the banging noise. In fact I’ve never been in one that has. Perhaps I’m lucky, or perhaps you’re a clumsy oaf who needs a job that doesn’t require any manual dexterity.

    Jason Thiebault–Timmy’s rocks. Much better coffee than Starbucks, and far better donuts than Krispy Kreme. And I can get both at 3 a.m. And no barista, “I’m doing you a favor by selling you a cup of caffiene” attitude.

  20. #20 george.w
    July 7, 2009

    Silly Greg, all you need is some iPod buds jammed in your ears all the time, cranked up and in just one short year, noisy coffee shops won’t bother you at all. (With or without the iPod.)

    I study very well in noisy places, probably because my hearing isn’t so good either (meningitis in 1960) but because I know that none of the noise has anything to do with me.

    But one distraction I have never learnt to tune out is some joker who wants to come up and start a conversation because we work in the same college and they forgot to ask me about their computer problem there. What part of “dude in a coffee shop away from workplace with nose in technical book and laptop” makes them think I want to interact with them? I have been known to put in a pair of headphones – connected only to my shirt pocket – to be more off-putting. Some people still don’t get the hint.

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2009

    because I know that none of the noise has anything to do with me.

    that is what makes the coffee shop work. Well put.

  22. #22 Dunc
    July 8, 2009

    The walls, floor, and ceiling of the Caribou are all made of sound-bouncy materials.

    This. I absolutely fucking hate it. When did it become fashionable for bars and coffee shops to have such horribly bright acoustic environments? I have a hard enough time filtering conversation from background noise at the best of times, but in these places, I might as well be inside a hermetically-sealed bubble of pure noise. It’s horrible.

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    July 8, 2009

    I went to a wedding like this a while ago. At dinner, cross from me were two teenage girls who whispered frenetically to each other. My wife, sitting to my right (and she has preternatural hearing) was talking to someone off to her right. Some other guy in the opposite corner and me sat there tuning in to the vibrating glass and metal surfaces. Food was good though.

  24. #24 Greg Laden
    July 8, 2009

    Bug_Girl… sorry, somehow, in your case only, “muffin banging” got moderated. Hard to say why…

  25. #25 Stephanie Z
    July 8, 2009

    Actually, it was probably the phrase, “increase your traffic.”

  26. #26 Dr. Steve
    July 8, 2009

    The loud Christian thing seems to be a bit of a theme. I don’t spend much time in coffee shops but my small sample size has returned a disproportionate number of bible study meetings apparently multi-tasking their read/prosyletize/drink very little coffee mandates.
    Nothing ruins a cup of coffee faster than their idiotic, jargon-filled, self-congratulatory meanderings.

  27. #27 Jadehawk
    July 10, 2009

    the noise level at a coffee shop is usually directly proportional to how much shit needs to be done in how little time. Greg would have hated the “coffee shop” i used to work at. the noise level of banging shit on shit was enhanced by the noise of orders being yelled from one end of the store (where the line started) to the other end of the store (where the line ended and the drinks came out). this was essential to get everybody their drink in a reasonable (in the customers’ opinion) amount time. if we had wanted to do “nice and quiet”, the whole process would have taken 10 times as long, thus pissing of the10-20 people standing in line at any given time, and we’d have lost most of our customers.
    and the suggestion of banging shit on softer shit… how about complaining to management to actually provide softer shit? most chain coffee shops are completely metal, because of sanitation and cheapness issues.
    and lastly, if you’re steaming milk and no one can hear it, you’re either doing it wrong, or you have a magical steaming wand (of course, the milk isn’t supposed to scream, either…)

    conclusion: fast, quiet, cheap pick any two.

    P.S. James Hanley, you can shove your classist attitude where the sun don’t shine.

  28. #28 Ian
    September 1, 2009

    One of the problems with quiet espresso machines are that they’re the “push a button” kind. And the more control you give the barista, the better the coffee (provided your barista is well trained in the art of banging metal on metal).

    When I was in grad school I lived in a coffee shop. I would get so annoyed when a class would come over and take over the whole place. Usually it was an intro German class that was supposed to meet there for conversation or something. Not only did they take up all the tables, not only did many of them not buy anything, not only would they re-arrange their tables so that I could not get out of my seat in the corner, not only did they not put the tables back after they were done with them or bus their own tables like everyone else, …they also spoke loud German with horrible accents.

    It’s bad enough to have loud, annoying conversation going on inches from your head. It’s far worse when you have to stop yourself from correcting their pronouncation or from supplying the words they are struggling to find. Yeah, that was a decade ago. I’m still annoyed. :)

  29. #29 Roderick
    March 24, 2012

    It seems that some people enjoy cafes where extra noise is created as a default part of the unconscious culture.

    Often – if alone I would read and use a comp.
    I like to talk with people – often about collaborative business ideas.
    A cafe is neutral, easy to find and you can sit.

    Some of the coffee shops in my town are unbelievably noisy for a few minutes here and there and the flow of conversation is cut off while a machine makes noise because we can’t hear each other.

    So we go for a walk instead of sitting and being interrupted. we don’t buy another cup and get exercise, get less jittery and save money – over time we use coffee shops less or meet there and go for a walk . the waiting person buys a coffee the second person does not feel the need. Sometimes now we meet at other places and don’t buy anything as it is not a selling place. $120- $200 per month accidentally is saved and I can make all sorts of drinks at home with the savings. Conversations are less caffeine urgent, more gets done and social life gets better…

    I go to a little library to read and use free wifi.

    All of this makes coffee shops more unpleasant and less warming to my emotional subconscious. Now I only go to coffee shops invited by people who can think of no alternative.

    This did not come about by my having a hatred of coffee shops but by a natural unconscious urge to move away from the unpleasant.
    If a coffee shop with the Guinness type of coffee and an area for uninterrupted connected conversation existed I would still be there many hours a day – doing my laptop ework and spending about 10% or less of my time talking.

    Now I hardly drink coffee and make my own tea – the flavor can’t be duplicated at any of the coffee shops and now I find the stale coffee smell in the cafes rather unpleasant.

    A good coffee dealer with a quiet coffee shop can make good money and keep their clientelle – but not me any more.
    Noise ruined my coffee drinking – saves me $200+ per month.

    Loss and gain
    The businesses of response and reaction.
    Who wins ?
    Who loses?
    Who justifies?
    Who changes?