Food tastes better with tunes — why restaurant music matters

A light sign with the text "Live music Friday & Saturday 7-10 PM."
A light sign with the text "Live music Friday & Saturday 7-10 PM."
Photo: Tim Mossholder

Music influences how much food and drinks restaurant guests order and how long time they stay. Let’s explore how you can shape guest experience by picking the right music, balancing the volume and considering music tempo.

All senses matter when you’re creating the best dining experience for your guests — the flavours and presentation of each dish, the alluring scents making their way from the kitchen to the entrance door, and the style of your restaurant’s interior. But the music plays a bigger role than you might think.  

Restaurant music and guest experience  

Imagine that you’re walking into a restaurant with an impressive design interior or the best kind of eclectic second-hand furniture that make you feel right at home.

You sit down to look at the menu. That too has a good-looking design. It’s easy for you to get a fast overview of all menu options.  

When your starter is served, the asparagus and grilled fish are cooked to perfection and the flavour combinations are just right. You take a sip of your Prosecco and glance up at your friend to ask them about their food.  

When you’re about to say something a fast-paced dance beat starts filling the room, your glass is vibrating on the table, and you have to say everything twice before your friend can hear you. 

Will this change your experience of the restaurant?  

This example is perhaps exaggerated, and there’s nothing wrong with dance music. It can be perfect if it matches your restaurant concept and target audience. Just like classical piano music can feel a bit off if you have an American-style burger joint.  

But this isn’t all there is to. Music can influence your guests even when they’re not even thinking about it.

 

Saxophone players playing in pink-hued stage light.
Photo: Jens Thekkeveettil

Can I get this dessert with jazz?

Can music be the secret ingredient in your recipes? There’s a good chance the answer is yes. According to studies, music can affect how restaurant guests perceive the taste of the food on your menu. 

When we use our senses to experience the world around us, such as the colour of someone’s shirt, the scent of a perfume or the taste of a chocolate dessert, we don’t only use one sense at a time. Our other senses come into play as well, because there’s usually something else in our surroundings that’s stimulating them at the same time, such as music.  

In a study from 2012, scientists found that listening to music with a lower-pitch soundscape enhances the experienced bitterness of a bittersweet toffee. Then what happens if the pitch is high? According to the study, a higher pitch made the participants experience the taste of the same bittersweet toffee as sweeter. 

Another study demonstrated that listening to music while drinking wine changes our experience of the wine’s flavour. 

Don’t worry, scientists also remembered to include beer drinkers in the appropriately named study, Not Just Another Pint! The Role of Emotion Induced by Music on the Consumer’s Tasting Experience. 

Here, the conclusion was that participants who were served beer while listening to positive music described the beer as tasting better and sweeter. 

The other group of pint-study participants were served exactly the same beer, but because they drank it while listening to music commonly associated with negative emotions, they experienced the beer as more bitter.

Slow music makes guests spend more on drinks from the bar 

When you’re picking music for your restaurant, consider whether you want guests to stay a little longer or eat fast enough for other guests to sit at the table within the next few hours. This matters because fast-paced music makes guests eat and drink faster, while slower music makes them linger longer and take their time with food and drink.  

In an experiment carried out in a restaurant, researchers studied guests while they were dining. When slow music was playing, the guests spent much longer time eating and drinking at their tables. Fast music resulted in faster eating and drinking.

Another very interesting effect of the slower music was that guests in groups spent up to 40% more on drinks from the bar. 

Music at Restaurant Moon in Tallinn 

Guests at Restaurant Moon, Tallinn, Estonia.

At Restaurant Moon in Tallinn, Estonia, they believe that music should complement the other elements of a guest’s dining experience.

Their head waitress, Svetlana Javorskaja, told us that they play many kinds of music, such as “Italian Cafe” music. Other times, the speakers at Restaurant Moon are pouring out Slavic music to accompany delicious Slavic dishes, such as beef Tatar and handmade Siberian dumplings.  

Music should be complementary because it creates wholeness. It shouldn’t be irritating
but it also shouldn’t vanish into the background. — Svetlana Javorskaja, head waitress Restaurant Moon  

When Restaurant Moon has a special restaurant event, they try to pick music that matches the theme of the event.  “When we have a wine dinner, we might play something French if the wines are from France,” tells Svetlana.  

We asked Svetlana if she has considered how music tempo might affect guests. She told us that she agrees with the studies above and that she’s aware that restaurant guests might eat too fast if the music is too fast, but believes that the music shouldn’t be too slow either. 

Can I create Spotify playlists for my restaurant? 

If you read Spotify’s terms and conditions, you’ll discover, perhaps surprisingly, that you’re not allowed to use your personal account when playing music in your restaurant. Instead, they suggest their business platform, Soundtrack Your Brand. 

In 2018 the American data and market measurement company, Nielsen, interviewed around 5000 owners of small businesses in the U.K. U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Spain and France about their use of music streaming services. From these interviews, they concluded that around 83% were playing music from personal accounts. 

According to Nielsen and Spotify, this leads to a 2.65-billion-dollar loss for the music industry every year.  

Restaurant live music 

Live music adds another good reason for guests to book a table at your restaurant.  

In fact, if you feed the phrase “restaurant with live music” to a keyword research tool, you’ll see that people across the globe search for it 30.000 times every month.  

So, how do you find artists and bands for your restaurant? Ask around, maybe you know someone who knows someone who’s brilliant with a guitar and a microphone. If not, do a little research on social media. Local Facebook events with music can be a good place to start. Or why not create an Instagram or Facebook post asking for suggestions? That’s also a good way to engage with your restaurant’s followers.

If you’ve been considering organising a restaurant event, live music is the perfect way to get started. Create a set menu package and maybe even a cocktail menu to match the music. Guests will love to enjoy the food and drink in that special live music atmosphere!

To sum all this up, it could pay off to spend a little more time picking music for your restaurant. Study after study shows that music affects all our senses and shapes our experiences. Why not plan tomorrow’s restaurant tracklist today and try it out on your guests tomorrow?