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Restaurant Music – How to Get it Right

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Music is an important part of any restaurant. When used correctly, it creates atmosphere, enhances perception of taste, and can even help influence menu choices and increase table turn. Most restaurant owners, however, don’t put enough thought into the music they use; or, they make the mistake of playing music that they like instead of music that will benefit the restaurant. This can ultimately leads to lower levels of customer satisfaction and sales.

Background music services, such as Dozmia for Business, have experience curating music for businesses that drive results, such as the ones mentioned above, and can create playlists that are tailored to your specific needs. Additionally, these services are already fully licensed, and can provide quick access to a large catalog of music. However, if you’d prefer to go at it yourself, the following information may be helpful.

Choose the right style.
According to a survey on music’s impact in public spaces, “Uncovering a Musical Myth“, 45% of consumers think it’s important that the music choice of a business matches their brand profile. When looking at just 16-24 year olds, this number jumps to 51%. When the wrong music is played, 44% of these consumers said it can make them leave, and 38% won’t come back.

Music can also affect customer’s perception of menu prices. One study tested the difference in consumer spending when classical music was being played verses pop music in a restaurant.  The study found that with the presence of classical music, customers chose more expensive alcoholic drinks, which resulted in a greater overall check size and profit margin.

When choosing a style of music, think about what kind of atmosphere you’re trying to build.  For example, if you’re a café that’s going for a hipster, artistic feel, indie or singer/songwriter music might be a good fit.  If you attract mostly a younger audience, hip-hop or pop might make more sense.  Focus on the kind of environment you’re trying to establish, and pick music that compliments that.

Pick songs with the right tempo.
Music tempo can change how much time customers spend in your restaurant by affecting their perception of time.  Slower music typically makes a span of time feel shorter than faster music. Because of this, slow music can cause customers to stay in your restaurant longer, and fast-paced music can get them to leave sooner.

If your goal is to increase table turn, fast-paced music makes more sense; but if you’re looking to provide an atmosphere that encourages lingering, slower-paced music is a better fit.

Major vs. minor key songs.
The key of a song determines how “happy” or “sad” it sounds. Major key songs usually sound happier than minor key songs, and have a positive effect on our mood, whereas minor key songs may encourage a more somber mood. Putting your customers in a good mood can positively influence their spending, so major key songs make more sense in most cases. However, minor key songs do tend to have more emotional appeal, so if your atmosphere is extremely influenced by the music, minor key songs may work.

Make sure it’s legal.
Many restaurant owners don’t realize that you have to pay licenses to BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC (the Performance Rights Organizations) to use music. Not doing so will result in lawsuits that lead to massive fines, which could then end in bankruptcy. There are exceptions to paying these licensing fees, which you can find in section 110 (5)(B) of the federal copyright law, but they don’t apply to most businesses.

It’s important to keep in mind that you only need to pay licensing fees to the organizations that represent the writers of the songs you play in your restaurant. Finding this information, though, can be time consuming as many songs can have multiple writers (it’s possible for a single song to be represented by all three organizations concurrently). If you’d like to find out which songs are represented by the performance rights organizations, click here to search BMI, here to search ASCAP, and here to search SESAC

Another important note is that playing music from consumer streaming services like Pandora or Spotify in a commercial setting may be against their terms of use, even if you have the appropriate licenses. Be sure to check for this before using any music services intended primarily for non-commercial use.

Keep volume just right.
High levels of volume have been shown to provide positive results for restaurants, with a catch. Louder music tends to increase the speed at which people eat, resulting in higher table turn. However, loud music can also have negative outcomes.  Many people go out to eat to socialize, and increased levels of volume can make it hard for your customers to communicate with each other, which can negatively affect the perception of your brand. Additionally, louder music negatively affects our ability to perceive taste, and can even suppress our appetite. Because of this, louder music can lead to decreased sales for your restaurant.

It’s good to maintain a level of volume that allows your customers to hear the music, but also be able to socialize.  Keep the music to a level that’s able to influence the atmosphere, but one that doesn’t negatively affect the customer experience.

Most restaurateurs don’t realize the importance of music and how it can affect their business, and don’t take the time to get the music right.  If you do take the time to choose your music thoughtfully, you’ll create a more memorable experience for your customers, which will positively impact sales.

About Nicholas Rubright

Nick Rubright is the founder and CEO of Dozmia, a music streaming service that provides background music for businesses. He has a passion for helping musicians in their careers, as well as helping businesses find their sound.

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