Music in restaurants doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
That’s what drove Ryuichi Sakamoto, a world-renowned composer, to take on the task of creating playlists for one of his favorite restaurants. Sakamoto didn’t want or need the gig. He simply found what he called “thoughtless” music choices were impacting his dining experience.
But, can listening to music while eating really make us more hungry or enhance the experience? We’ll give you some food for thought in this article, and then you can judge for yourself.
Before delving into restaurant music, it’s worth talking about the reasons why it’s even there. After all, why would any restaurant take on the added expense of playing music if it didn’t help in some way?
For most restaurants, music’s primary goal is to create an ambiance conducive to feeling at ease and welcome. Unless you’re in the middle of an intense conversation at dinner, you probably appreciate some music in the background.
Ultimately, restaurant owners who are serious about their business want to create an experience for diners. Food covers most of the senses: smell, taste, sight, and even touch. Hearing is the one stimulus that’s often missing, and music is an opportunity to complete the experience.
Music also helps you ignore other diners. For better or worse, restaurant dining is a communal experience, and listening to music while eating can help dampen other patrons’ sound, drinking, and speaking.
Unless you’re at a buffet, you’ll have to wait at least a little while until restaurant staff serves your food. And that’s if you didn’t already spend some time waiting for your table to be ready.
In that case, music can help take your mind off the waiting. That’s why there’s even such a thing as elevator music and waiting room music. Restaurant music serves as a light stimulus to ease the transitional period.
Research from USF about the effect of music on food preferences revealed some impressive things. Researchers discovered that the type of music played at restaurants impacted what types of food diners preferred.
The volume seemed to be an important factor, with louder environments making diners choose more rich and hearty foods than they otherwise might. And it’s no secret that music can increase our stress and excitement levels. That excitement can make you more likely to want an “exciting” meal.
Now, that doesn’t mean the music in restaurants dictates your food choices. But, it’s worth noting that it could slightly modify your behavior. The same research pointed out that the impact of music is small.
Whether we like it or not, music in restaurants, grocery stores, and retail environments, in general, is ubiquitous. Almost everywhere you go, some form of music will be playing. In that kind of environment, sitting in a completely silent restaurant would feel jarring and unnatural.
And that covers a lot of the reasons why restaurants play music and why we like to hear it when dining. Any restaurant owner who doesn’t approach music choice with some care isn’t making the best use of his disposal tools.
Moreover, as unfortunate as it is, some people don’t have much to say to each other when eating together. Others just don’t like a conversation with their meal. In either case, music serves as a way to keep the environment less awkward and provide breaks in the action.
Live music is fun for most people. And a lot of the time, the promise of a live performance is enough to make someone decide to eat at one restaurant over another. In addition to the effects already listed, live music also attracts customers, especially if the restaurant is hosting the right musician.
At Root and Bone, we take our music selection seriously. We work with local musicians who contribute to the atmosphere in our restaurant.
Live music and food also work together to create a social and communal atmosphere that humans have enjoyed for thousands of years. In every society, music and food play central but equally important roles in interacting with each other and socializing.
And not only that. A restaurant with music can help give back to the community by promoting up-and-coming local artists. Should those artists continue to grow in fame, it could be a feather in a restaurant’s cap to claim that they were among the first venues where they performed.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out a few things about why that particular song is playing at that particular time in that restaurant. Sure, some restaurant managers are more involved than others, but there’s usually at least some sort of plan about why one type of music is playing over another.
Fast-paced music tends to make people eat faster. This isn’t surprising, but that doesn’t jive with every restaurant’s plan. A restaurant that wants you to enjoy your stay and values your continued business will try to pick downtempo music that makes you feel cozy and comfortable.
In contrast, fast-food restaurants and restaurants with minimal seating space are better off choosing faster and louder music. The idea here is to create more customer turnover rather than extending a patron’s stay. Typically, restaurants like that focus on inexpensive menu items and lunch items.
And then there are restaurants with no music at all. There are those who see live music and food as being inconsistent with each other. Usually, super-fine-dining restaurants that want to make food the sole focus of the dining experience choose this option.
It’s not usually a good option for most restaurants, especially if the intended audience is a typical restaurant patron who’s used to a restaurant with music or any kind of music.
So does music really impact how hungry people are? Probably not. However, there’s a decent amount of good evidence that suggests the choice of music can modify people’s behavior with and about food.
Does that mean you should be picky about what kind of restaurant music you want to hear? Sure, why not. If you want a relaxed and cozy dining experience, look for restaurants that put some thought into music choice and don’t just play top hits to fill the air with sound. The right song can set the mood for your meal and the entire evening.
Do you have preferences about the music that plays in restaurants? We sure do. That’s why we carefully choose local artists to work with whom you can listen to regularly at Root and Bone. Reserve a table at Root and Bone right now, and we’ll make sure the music matches your meal and leaves you satisfied.
Do you think some types of music make you more hungry than others? Let us know, and we might hear it the next time you come in for dinner!