Whether you’re into The Beatles or Bonnie Tyler, your sound system and the music it plays can have diners turning up—or tuning out. Nicole Azzopardi reports.
Psychologists have found playing French music in supermarkets makes people buy French wine, while German tunes prompt more Riesling purchases. In another study by the University of Newcastle, it was found that fast-tempo music in cafeterias increases the chewing rates of customers. And at the University of Melbourne, associate professor Bernd Rohrmann says almost all customers he surveyed for a study on sound indicated they liked music in restaurants.
According to the study, diners prefer pop and rock to musical scores or classical tracks, while many like it louder than the noise around them.
Even without the scientific research, most restaurateurs already know music has a direct effect on diners and has the ability to change the ambience of a space and the mood of the people within it.
But how do you go about selecting the right audio system with the right sound?
Often, it’s not as simple as just plugging in your iPod and leaving your staff to crank out their favourite tunes. It’s about achieving consistency according to your brand and style of cuisine.
If you get your playlist wrong, you’ll see how easy it is to clear a restaurant’s floor. But that’s just the start of the musical conundrum.
Even if you do get the tone right, there are plenty of legalities to think about.
Playing recorded music in a public space is illegal without a license—or two if you’re operating in Australia. The first is from the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) and the second from the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA).
“Most people think if they’ve gone and bought a cd, it allows them to do anything with it,” PPCA chief executive Stephen Peach explains.
“The Copyright Act makes it clear however, that they don’t have such a right. In a private environment like your own home or car it’s ok, but in a commercial context licenses are always required.”
A licence ranges from $60 to a couple of hundred a year, depending on the number of seats in your restaurant.
Once the licence is in order, music purchased through iTunes and played from that PC is fine, but other sources such as burnt discs or downloaded music can be problematic.
“A lot of people make their own compilations and burn their own CDs,” Peach says.
“The owner of a chain of cafes might buy one copy of a CD and burn 10 more for all his different outlets. The original one is OK but the other 10
are illegal copies.”
With this in mind, many restaurateurs find that a swathe of favourite CDs and a trusty five-stacker is sufficient to strike the right mood—but it still doesn’t come without the down-side of repetition and unwanted tracks. It can also be a distraction to staff, who need to change and program CDs.
More and more, the trend is to look to a music selection company, specialising in doing everything from sending you a new CD compilation a month, to establishing up a complete music system pre-loaded and pre-programmed with tracks to suit any mood.
While the concept of centralised music systems has been around forever—supermarket food halls have used it for years—it’s only been recently that the idea has gained traction in the restaurant business.
“As a music programming specialist, we aim to understand a restaurant’s brand and image requirements, their operational preferences and financial position when determining the appropriate music strategy,” Faith Satherley, of SBA Music, says.
With a focus on sourcing music from record companies to create consistently programmed music management solutions, SBA Music is licensed with ARIA and AMCOS to allow the reproduction of music for supply to the market.
“When you think about it, music is the only thing that’s omnipresent,” Satherley says.
“When you walk into a shop or restaurant, wherever you move, you can hear. It’s an important component and yet not at all obvious, so it can tend to get overlooked.
“Sometimes the restaurateur uses a few different parties to put a venue together. Often, each one has their own agenda. There are design factors, fit-out contractors, decorators… but they might not share a completely common goal, so things can get lost in translation. For example, a café might get a video screen, stereo system and amplifiers, but the restaurateur is at a loss about what to put on it.”
Often, this same lack of co-ordination occurs with the sound system itself.
“A music system in a restaurant is the simplest thing in the world, but it’s often an afterthought,” says Len Wallis, of Len Wallis Audio.
Avoiding and correcting audio hotspots are a major challenge Wallis often sees.
“Hotspots are areas that are really loud in some parts of the restaurant but inaudible in others,” he says.
“It happens when you’ve got a big area and you try to cover the whole place with two speakers. Invariably you are going to have to turn your system up, which creates a problem for some diners.”
The solution is to use more speakers than what you would normally install in a room. Wallis suggests concealing some speakers in the ceiling or behind walls, which needs to be done during design and fit-out stages—not after.
And when it comes to choosing an amplifier, he says the best trick is to keep it simple: “Choose something robust. You don’t need lots of features. And avoid trying to drive too many loudspeakers off the amplifier. You end up with a big puff of smoke.”
Like most things, quality is also a major factor. Most of the big names should be able to come on site, assess your needs and offer a complete sound system package.
“The major issue we come across is people going into their restaurant without knowing what they need,” says Peter Simons of audio manufacturing giant, Bose.
“The unfortunate thing is that no restaurant is the same. Ceiling height, furnishings and walls all have an impact on the quality of sound in your venue.”
In an effort to provide a complete solution, Bose proffers a turnkey package to clients, complete with a full AV system and digital music provider, which can include a range of music to go with it.
A quality, fully installed audio system can set you back between $3,000 and $60,000.
Tarin Tamana of modern Indian restaurant Tamana’s On Top located in the Sydney suburb of Newtown, says spending the cash on the right sound system has definitely paid big dividends.
Cashing in on the surge of popularity for Bollywood film and music, Tamana set about creating a multi-use venue complete with a system capable of showing off the most elaborate of saris and some of the best wild drum beats in town.
His Bollywood-inspired, 120-seater restaurant, which serves up a mix of north and south Indian food, relies heavily on musical and visual input to help create a unique ambiance.
“Our complete AV set-up cost around $90,000 but we are very happy that we spent the money,” he says.
“The importance of our audio visual system comes second only to the quality of the food we serve. Investing in such a comprehensive system
has already paid off.”
With six 42-inch plasma screens on the walls, two 32-inch plasmas on the bar, 15 ceiling speakers and two large dance speakers, Tamana’s certainly is wired for sound.
“We are a family-owned restaurant that grew from being a takeaway downstairs to a more formal restaurant upstairs,” Tamana explains.
“We wanted to be able to offer a live Bollywood dance show as well as screen DVDs of Bollywood film clips. In essence, we wanted to show people exactly what Bollywood was. So far it has been fantastic and is one of the major reasons that customers keep coming
to our restaurant.”
With a touch-screen remote control behind the bar and another in the office to drive the all the action from a distance, Tamana says things couldn’t be easier.
“The quality of the sound is fantastic, it’s discreet and also very simple to use. in fact, even my dad can use it.”