Restaurant Music: How To Curate The Ultimate Playlist
There is a lot to keep up with running a restaurant, from minimizing pain points in your kitchen to effectively managing your guests during a pandemic and beyond. Bear in mind, the industry will persevere, the virus will be managed, and people desperately want to return to eating in restaurants. The reason that guests are hungry to dine out is simple: the experience. Part of our dining experience is an engagement of all five senses. It’s not just taste, smell, and sight, but the way we feel and the things we hear. Restaurant music is more than just a clever playlist, but a way to sonically enhance the diner’s journey, which creates a lasting impression and fosters guest loyalty.
The Psychology of Music in Restaurants
Music serves many utilities, from inspiring dance in partygoers, to lending emotional gravitas on film. Sonic branding is such a distinct part of the world around us that it’s easy to tune them out. Still, when you hear the Microsoft startup music or the AT&T bells, you automatically associate specific products. The same is true of times and places. You likely remember the song that was played at your first dance or during other significant moments. Before the proliferation of music streaming, it was customary for teenagers and young adults to exchange mixtapes as a token of affection, an amateur move at that same sonic branding; the brand is you.
There are many music components, from harmony to tempo and more, each subjective to the listener. Still, there are certain tropes in music that yield specific results to most listening. For example, faster tempos have been proven to evoke positive emotions, although slower tempos are more likely to cause diners to prolong their experience, whether subconsciously or not.
These are all factors in determining your restaurant music playlist, depending on the guest experience you wish to create. This tacit use of sound is often called neuromarketing, which gives subliminal clues to listeners that nudge their choices. If you want a higher table turn in the examples above, you might select a mix of higher tempo, melodic music. If you want to lengthen someone’s time at your restaurant —perhaps for drinks— you might look for something with a slower tempo. We’ll consider these factors as we break down what one fictional restaurant per service industry segment might want from their guests, to illustrate how this can play out.
Make Sure It’s Legal
Before we dive in, remember that your restaurant music must be compliant with local and federal laws, whether you have a playlist or live set. Make sure that you have consulted either ASCAP or BMI to ensure that you are allowed to play whatever music you want; streaming music or performing cover songs live pays out royalties to artists, which requires the rights to do so. Also, be aware of your local noise ordinances, just in case your playlist ever gets a little too lively.
Burger Time: Quick Service
Our quick service restaurant is a typical burger joint, a franchise built on consistency and familiarity. The owner, Bill, focuses on the table turns to keep his fast-food business sharp. His customers are there to get their food and move along with their time. In keeping with that, Bill wants punchy, short, and fun songs, the kind you hear on pop radio.
Rather than loading a playlist with only the Billboard Hot 100, he wants music that reflects the restaurant’s personality, family-friendly and fun. His playlist is rich with cross-genre jams, songs you play at a party, or hootenanny. These high tempo songs make for an upbeat and often familiar atmosphere, while also having the psychological effect of causing guests to eat faster.
Surf’s Up: Fast Casual
Meet Maria. She runs a trendy fast-casual restaurant that blends Mexican street food with a beach theme. Like a quick service, fast-casual restaurants are designed for speed and efficiency, but with a relaxed environment. Maria is a passionate fan of music and listens for catchy, upbeat, and excitable things. She wants her restaurant music playlist to reflect not just her personality but also her beach theme’s general vibe.
To satisfy that, she looked to genres like surf, power pop, and garage rock, which share a commonality in uptempo speeds and hook-heavy melodies. Her list is a smattering of old and contemporary, as that illustrates her tastes’ totality while making for an engaging, if short, listening experience for her guests.
GastroPub Del Sol: Table Service
Meet Ryan. Ryan operates a table service gastropub that features pub fare and a lengthy tap list. Because of that lengthy tap list, Ryan wants a playlist that isn’t afraid to run a little longer, tapping into a wide range of genres from modern R&B and classic rap songs to classic rock anthems and even a little country. While this restaurant music playlist may seem diverse, the tracks chosen reflect Ryan’s customer base’s demographics, with songs designed to evoke nostalgia.
On average, these are longer, more pensive songs that compliment the camaraderie of the venue. There are some shorter songs here, but in general, the idea is to create a sonic tapestry that inspires conversation. These are storytelling songs for a casual dinner with enough variation that you won’t know what to expect next.
Four Seasons Ristorante: Fine Dining
Of each restaurant segment, fine dining has struggled the most during the pandemic. Fine dining is predicated heavily on experience, which Tim, the owner of the Four Seasons Ristorante, knows. Tim wants restaurant music that compliments conversation while creating an atmosphere. His playlist swings from modern jazz to minimalist composition and back to indie and electronic music.
Tim believes that music should be as ignorable as it is interesting, which means that should an astute guest lean into the music, they can take away much or allow it to exist quietly in the background. Tim’s playlist’s songs vary wildly in length, from the long and meandering to the short and sultry. This playlist is meant to cultivate intimacy and warmth, allowing patrons to breathe and relax in an accommodating environment.
During quarantine, restaurants have relied on off-premise dining orders as an imperative revenue stream. In spite of this, diners around the world are excited at the opportunity to dine out again, indicating again that eating in is about the experience as much as anything else. Sure, you could find a Pandora station or pre-existing Spotify playlist, but your guests (and staff) will notice, and it will become a distraction. By managing your restaurant’s sound, you can enrich your diner’s journey and create meaningful memories for them. Through the right neuromarketing, you can alter your guests’ perception while also injecting your own personality.
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About the Author
Syd was a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot. At home, like the rest of the world right now, he’s finding time to play with the kids and create art.