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6 Tips for Music in Your Restaurant

Background music creates ambience--when you follow a few rules.

By Sarah Ann Noel - April 7, 2017

It was a little pizza joint in Denver, most recently; but I've sat in restaurants from London to New York to Los Angeles and experienced the same thing: music interrupting my meal. This particular experience, the music went from loud to louder, as we sat down; and at that, the unedited hip hop was hardly appropriate for the small children in our party. Our requests for a change were met with snarky responses from the rude manager, and nothing was done to address the issue. 

When it comes to restaurant aesthetics, you can't please everyone. At some point, you say, "This is who we are," and you run with that personality, even if it's not to every guest's tastes. But a restaurant playlist should be a tool to enhance a dining experience, not something that works against you. Here are a few tips for managing your soundtrack so it will help, not harm.

1. Let the music set the mood. In most restaurants, music isn't meant to be entertainment. It's meant to create a tone. If you visit an Italian restaurant, you might expect to see red-checked tablecloths and drippy candles in wine bottles. A trap mix meant for a nightclub would detract from that ambiance entirely. Choose music with environment in mind, the same way you select art for the walls and lighting--to invoke feeling, nostalgia, mood.

2. Volume control is essential. Whatever the music, it's always better to err on the softer side. When people sit down to dine, they expect to also be able to carry on a conversation with their entire party, without having to shout. This may require adjusting the music throughout the day, depending on the number of guests you have at a given time.

3. Consider the audience. If you are a family-friendly establishment, your music needs to be family-friendly too. Make sure that the lyrics and implications of the music are appropriate for all generations. Obvious go-to options would be oldies, radio-edited Top 40, or instrumental.

4. The customer is always right. No matter what pains you've taken to create an enjoyable musical background, if a guest complains that the music is too noisy or inappropriate, it's an easy fix. Attention to these small details--and concerns, if that's what they turn into--can make or break a guest experience.

5. It's okay to be flexible--and it may be a benefit. You can consider different needs throughout different parts of your day. Perhaps you have a busy happy hour full of guests leaving work and coming to unwind--they might prefer upbeat music to laugh with friends to end a day. You can use a shift in music to signal the end of happy hour and the beiginning of dinner. It's a slight, subliminal message that could help retain business from happy hour and carry it into dinner. 

6. Skip the commercials. If you're not using a custom-created playlist, and opting for Pandora or another music service, pay the montly fee to skip commercials. Little is more jarring than sudden advertisement in the middle of a drink or a meal.

What's most important to remember is that a restaurant creates a whole experience--not solely the food or the decor. Pay attention to the big picture. For more tips on music and how to curate a full-blown restaurant experience, contact our restaurant consultants today

Photo by Austin Yoder.