The music played in restaurants

music played in restaurants
The music played in restaurants can make a huge difference to the diner’s experience.

Music has an instant impact on mood which when used well can enhance the customer experience–and boost your bottom line. By Sue Nelson

Visiting a restaurant or cafe is a complete sensory experience. The lighting, the service, the decor, the colours and, of course, the soundtrack, all contribute to the ambience—so it makes sense to get them right. Hit the jackpot, and you’ll get return and referred clientele. Get it wrong, and you risk irritating customers no matter how good the seafood bisque is, or how extensive the wine list. The music you play, like everything else, needs to work in harmony with all the other elements, and it needs to reflect your brand.

Music played in public venues has been shown by a number of studies to change customer behaviour. We all know the anecdote about fast food restaurants speeding up the music to move customers along quickly, and it’s true that more beats-per-minute will encourage faster chewing, but there is a range of other ways music can affect not only footfall but also enjoyment of the experience and future custom. 

What to play

Choosing classical music over Top 40 pop can encourage customers to choose more expensive menu and wine list options, while Christmas and other seasonal music, which is often on heavy rotation in department stores well ahead of the season, might encourage consumers to think about purchases like gifts and decorations. 

Likewise, music that matches the rest of the experience, and marks it as genuine—whether it is independent artists or jazz in an edgy cafe, or Turkish folk music to match the cuisine—can set the tone of authenticity that customers expect.

“If we encounter a business playing music without a licence, we educate them on why they need a licence, where the money goes and what their payment options are.”

Catherine Giuliano, Director of General Licensing, OneMusic

In restaurants, where atmosphere is so integral to the experience, silence is simply not an option. “When you visit a restaurant with no music playing it is jarring; you feel that something is wrong, as if you’re not welcome to take a seat,” says Drew Pollock, head of Technology and Innovation at Moov Music

“Playing the right type of music to suit your clientele can have significant impact on the bottom line. Music has been shown to increase linger time and average spend—plus it factors into a customer’s choice to return in the future.”

Annette Sparks, office manager at Tao Cafe in Western Australia, agrees: “Music brings a hard-to-achieve element of the dining experience and that’s atmosphere. If the food, drink and service are good, the overall experience can become great with the right atmosphere.”

But it’s important to get the right sounds—to attract clients, and also to avoid infringing copyright law. 

Do you have to pay?

Letting your staff curate a playlist based on their tastes can be a recipe for disaster. A Spotify playlist featuring the original hits of major-label artists such as David Bowie, Pink Floyd or Elvis Costello might speak of great taste in music to some, but as well as risking alienating the youthful market you’re hoping to reach, it may attract fines of up to $200,000 for the unwary restaurateur. A personal, or residential, music subscription won’t wash in a commercial setting—and nor will those old CDs you have already paid for. You’ll need to pay an additional fee to music licensing organisation OneMusic to account for that commercial use.

“When you visit a restaurant with no music playing it is jarring; you feel that something is wrong.” 

Drew Pollock, Head of Technology and Innovation, Moov Music

“We really operate from an education-first point of view, so if we encounter a business playing music without a licence, we educate them on why they need a licence, where the money goes and what their payment options are,” says Catherine Giuliano, director of General Licensing at OneMusic

“In extreme circumstances where there are continued breaches, we feel it’s unfair to allow a business that trades on music to continue to do so without paying when other businesses are doing the right thing. So it’s up to us to level that playing field, and yes we do pursue them and we have had some significant wins for the whole sector that way.”

Get advice

Background music experts Moov Music have a keen understanding of the licensing framework for venues that complements their knowledge of the market research behind music and dining—right down to what might be best for your specific cohort at different times of the day. 

“You certainly enjoy your meal less in the awkwardness of silence, but it can be just as off-putting to book a table at a boutique tapas bar only to hear a heavy metal rock playlist when a smooth lounge or jazz playlist would be a much better match,” says Drew. 

“Music brings a hard-to-achieve element of the dining experience and that’s atmosphere.” 

Annette Sparks, office manager, Tao Cafe 

“There are many options available and getting the right sound to suit your brand along with the correct licensing can be a bit confusing,” Drew says. “Our team includes music professionals with a background in radio. They understand the science, including the music that most suits each demographic, which allows us to craft a sound for our clients.” 

“The music needs to resonate with our customers and reflect our brand well,” Annette Sparks says. “So it’s important that it’s appropriate and doesn’t interfere with people’s conversations, while being enjoyable and enhancing the experience.

“It was important for us to find a viable, cost-effective option that wasn’t a compromise, and by offering a directly licensed service, Moov Music helped us achieve that.” 


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