My husband and I went out to dinner recently. Let’s not get into all the COVID-19 implications except to say that indoor dining had opened up there and it wasn’t a very popular restaurant, so the tables and, more importantly, the patrons were even more socially distant than the CDC requires!

As we took our seats, we noticed a television blaring in the background. My husband asked the waiter to please turn it down and he immediately complied. Then one of the owners of the restaurant came out from the back and, apparently, decided that he wanted to catch up on the news (a particular political event actually) and raised the volume. Now my husband politely asked him to lower the volume and he also complied, although slightly more reluctantly than the waiter.

But it led to us wondering. I assume that, despite the owner’s obvious interest, televisions are placed in restaurants for the benefit of the patrons. And this seems hard to understand. If it’s not a sports bar where the events on the screen are the attraction, and you’re not dining alone (which no one in the restaurant last night was), why would you watch TV when you’re out for dinner with someone else? Isn’t at least some, if not the whole, point of the outing to spend time with your “date” (i.e. whoever you are with – spouse, child, friend, employer, great-aunt…)? Why would you choose to watch television or even be distracted by the sounds and sights of the TV screen?

Even if you don’t want to watch, it’s hard to look away (the analogy to a car wreck seems appropriate), leading my husband to ask me to switch seats with him. It seems to defeat the whole purpose of being out. It’s challenging enough to put away our phones so that it doesn’t beckon; why place another obstacle in our midst?

Is it one of those things – like the color the restaurant walls and the type of music played – that studies demonstrate affects how much people order and how long they stay? (If it’s the latter, one would assume a busy restaurant that desires its customers to leave as quickly as possible!)

We live in a noisy world. We live in a world where it feels like the sights and sounds are “coming at you”. Even a bowling alley can feel like an assault on the senses (I’m harking back to some pre-corona experiences) with videos and songs blaring from above the alleys. I don’t enjoy it, having now achieved full “old fogey” status, but I accept it’s the way things are now (hoping, probably in vain, that the quiet experienced during the last 12 months will continue when the world opens up). Except in restaurants.

Shouldn’t there be certain spots where quiet still reigns, where the interest of the patrons in being able to communicate with each other takes precedence? Perhaps we’ve lost that skill and the TV masks our lack of social skills or allows us to take it easy. If so, that diminishes all of us and all of our relationships.

But I think more likely, it’s just laziness and habit. TV screens are on all day in many people’s homes (the average American watches 5.4 hours of television/day which seems impossible unless you use it as background noise), most hotels have televisions in the bathrooms (God forbid, there should be a moment without a screen) – we don’t want quiet, we don’t want to think, we don’t want to slow it down too much.

When our meals came, my husband and I understood why the restaurant wasn’t so popular (!), but it didn’t matter. We weren’t there for the food; we were there to enjoy some quiet time with each other. It was a rainy day and it was cozy to sit inside and watch the street and catch up. We were there for each other and we didn’t want the television to get between us.

It may sometimes be scary or silent or awkward without that external barrier but ultimately I think we would all benefit. Next time I'm going to make sure there’s no television before choosing a restaurant (and perhaps I'll check the yelp ratings on the food as well).