Choosing Restaurant Music: Tips to Consider Before Pressing Play

When you opened your restaurant, you spent a lot of time defining your menu and decor. Your restaurant music may not have received as much attention, but it can play a significant role in shaping the experience your guests have and deserves some serious thought. It's good practice to think about your goals before you revamp any part of your operation—and restaurant music is no exception. "Something appropriate" is a relatively easy target, but there are more ambitious options as well. As you make a plan, here are a few things to think about.

Setting Your Goals

Reflect Your Style

If you simply want to play tunes that are appropriate for your setting and clientele, you can "wing it" on a common-sense basis. A mix of low-key, popular music works for most family-oriented establishments (just remember to screen songs for vulgar lyrics if kids will be present), while you may want to opt for classical music or cocktail jazz for a more formal establishment. Just remember that you're choosing the music to please your guests, not yourself or your staff.

Appeal to a Specific Demographic

A more ambitious goal is to use your music as a tool to bring in, or retain, guests who match a suitable demographic profile. For example, if the lunch crowd in your area consists of mature professionals, but your rivals play hip-hop or club music, you have the opportunity to appeal to them by playing age-appropriate tunes at a lower volume. On the other side of the coin, if you're trying to create a young, hip, high-energy vibe, playing loud, up-tempo music will appeal to those guests but deter the older crowd.

Manage the Dining Experience

If you're serious about getting the maximum benefit from your music, you should also consider factors such as time of day and the nature of your service. Researchers have demonstrated that guests tend to eat faster when up-tempo music is playing, but linger and spend more money, especially on drinks, when the music has a slower rhythm. Think about this in comparison to how often you need to turn tables in order to make the most profit. Some savvy operators even vary the music selection by time of day, going with an up-tempo genre at peak times and slowing it down when the restaurant is quieter.

Making It Happen

DIY vs. Hiring a Pro

If you're doing it right, maintaining a playlist is a lot of work. Your guests and staff won't want to hear the same songs every day, so the music should change over time to stay fresh and appealing. Unless you're happy to slap on a box set or tune into a local radio station (and risk your guests hearing ads for a competitor), this can quickly become a time-consuming task. If you're already a music geek with a huge song collection, or you already spend time listening to new music, this won't be an issue. However, if that's not the case, you're probably better off getting some form of professional assistance.

A Few Options

At its simplest, your in-house sound system can consist of nothing more than a well-loaded iPod connected to an amp and speakers. If you don't want to choose your own music, you can go with a satellite radio receiver or a tablet that streams playlists from a music service or app. Most services start with music you've chosen and then use an algorithm to expand the list with similar music. This works well, but it doesn't allow for complete control over your content. Professional music services take this a step further by hand-curating songs for you that meet your criteria for style, lyrics, and tempo.

Don't Forget the License

To legally play music in your restaurant, you may need to license it. You may be exempt from this if your establishment is small enough (less than 3,750 square feet), but make sure to do your research in order to avoid issues.

Choosing music for your restaurant may seem like an easy task, but there are a few tips and considerations to keep in mind. Start with this advice, and before you know it, you'll be able to press play with confidence.

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