Okay, so when I start my band, I'm going to call it I Hate Restaurant Music. And we're going to play at bars and clubs and music venues, and it'll be cool. And we'll never play in restaurants, not at any time of day, and that'll limit our exposure somewhat, and our rise to rock n' roll greatness will be somewhat less meteoric than we'd prefer, but that's the price we'll have to pay for not annoying the everliving shit out of people.
I'm sorry, restaurant bands, but it's time to knock it the hell off. I know it's hard to get exposure in an industry saturated with indie acts all searching for a record deal. I know that there are only so many slots at open mic night, and I know that many cities limit or outright ban busking. Getting your name out is both essential and challenging. But trying to get your name out whilst I'm trying to enjoy my southwest quesadilla and conversation with the people immediately to the front and sides of me is a one-way ticket to the border of Putting My Foot Through Your Guitarsville, and I can't guarantee I won't be tempted to go exploring.
Almost exclusively, I go to restaurants with friends - if I'm alone, I'm probably just going to pick something up and take it back to my apartment/office - and it's to enjoy not only tasty sustenance but also engaging conversation. Maybe it's lunch with coworkers, and we're talking about funny things that happened at work. Maybe it's brunch with family, and we're talking about family stuff. Maybe it's coffee with girlfriends, and we're talking about how great/awful guys can be. Or maybe it's dinner at Rojo with the kickball league, and we're not talking about a damn thing, because the Indigo Girls Plus Deodorant are up there singing their pretty hearts out to the exclusion of all other sounds.
I'm not even asking that you not play. Many restaurants are playing canned music anyway; there's no reason that they shouldn't have a live performer with a new sound instead of the old stuff they get on CD from corporate once a month. But that amp you have there has a knob that goes all the way from 10 (or 11, as applicable) down to 0, and all but the deafest of old people will be able to hear you even on the lower end of that scale. When you've got your sound guy wandering around the back of the room giving you unnecessarily earnest thumbs up and down as he listens to your levels, there's no reason he can't try to exchange pleasantries with the patrons around him. If he can still hear himself think, you're good to go.
And for the love of Jeff, don't glare at me if I'm still trying to carry on a conversation during your set. It's not a pointed insult at you; it's a pointed attempt to do what I was already doing when you pulled out your guitar and started wailing away. I am at a place where eating and talking are the norm. If you want people to not eat and talk while you're playing, try performing at a place where listening to music is the norm and eating and talking are aberrant behaviors. Like, for instance, clubs. And designated music venues.
Restaurant musicians, do your thing - quietly, please. Restauranteurs, go ahead and book those musicians, but keep them to a reasonable level. And if you're out there, label reps, come to restaurants when bands are playing, sit close enough to the stage that you can hear the band without being distracted by nearby conversation, and sign that band just as quick as you can so they can play at big venues where I am not trying to talk to a person. Because this quesadilla looks too big for me to finish, and I'd hate to see that last triangle end up somewhere we'd all regret.