October 25, 2013 7:02 pm

Music for dinner parties and the art of falling asleep in public

Operatic extracts, particularly Nessun Flipping Dorma, are simply unacceptable

David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

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David Tang

I was recently at a restaurant in Mayfair. From the corner of my eye, I spied a familiar-looking Chinese man who seemed to have nodded off. As his head slumped to one side, his dinner companion appeared to ignore his state of sleep and talked on in a chirpy manner. I say hats off to her for handling an embarrassing situation with a good deal of grace. How would you have dealt with the situation, and what is your personal position on people falling asleep in restaurants?

OK, I know you caught me in flagrante delicto nodding off at dinner with my wife, who is not unfamiliar with my nickname “Narco”! There was no pretence on my part. I was jet-lagged and had probably had a hard day replete with vulgar commercial engagements. I hate and simply cannot fight any more that overwhelming feeling of my heavy eyelids like a large corrugated iron garage door slamming down behind a screeching car newly filled with loot. But such apparent bad behaviour seems to be no worse than that of so many of my dining companions who do not desist from looking at their iPhones and mobiles etc. They are effectively ruder than me with my natural inclination to fall asleep because they are fully awake. And because they are so preoccupied, they wouldn’t even notice I was napping. I have also been at the receiving end of slumbering companions. Henry Kissinger has done it to me, although he has the amazing ability to continue with the conversation from the moment he nodded off and left it in suspension. The great man, at his age, is entitled to these punctuating 40 winks but not everyone is Henry Kissinger. I once had an acquaintance who got drunk in the middle of dinner and simply passed out. I proceeded to order an expensive bottle of claret, took it away with me and left him with the whole bill.

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What sort of music, if any, should be played for a dinner party at home? Should restaurants also play background music?

For atmosphere, background music at home when guests begin to arrive for dinner is just about acceptable – although ghastly bijou pieces by the likes of Kenny G and Richard Clayderman should be banned at all costs. Cole Porter or Nat King Cole or Ella Fitzgerald are OK because their lyrics and melodies have substance, and their mood of a golden age often adds to the general atmosphere. Somehow, for me, classical music doesn’t work as well as background music. Bach or Chopin always sound contrived because they are more hackneyed than erudite. Anything symphonic is bound to be a bit heavy. And operatic extracts, particularly from The Three Tenors, and particularly, particularly Nessun Flipping Dorma, are simply unacceptable.

Of course all music should be switched off during dinner. Common sense dictates that conversations should properly anchor a decent dinner without any distractions. But nowadays the intrusion is much more likely to come from the silent uses of the iPhone or BlackBerry under the table, rather than any music in the background. Indeed, in restaurants, the sad sight of diners using their mobiles is making any background music irrelevant. My trick is to email my guests – or hosts – round the same table with messages like, “Are you going to continue looking at your screen, ignoring us and spoiling a fairly civilised dinner?”, which have become a template on my BlackBerry.

I love performances before or after dinner. Recently, I was staying at Houghton, admiring its extraordinary exhibition of pictures, which had once been sold off to Catherine the Great but some of them borrowed back to be put in situ. Luckily for all of us, a concert pianist and our host played both before and after dinner on a piano that had been a present to Lady Cholmondeley from Rubinstein. It was a joy listening to Rachmaninov and Schumann and that divine transcription of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. All a bit old-fashioned, some might argue, but these musical interludes make us appreciate the enhancement of music.

Most of all, I miss those wonderful bands in black tie with glamorous singers at restaurants and nightclubs. I would love to see the return of the kind of burlesques that used to make places like Berlin alluring and magical. We don’t listen enough and we don’t spend enough time listening.

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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