Four Tips for Picking the Best Music for Your Restaurant or Bar

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Music is not just for dancing. Science shows us that people listen to music to “regulate arousal and mood, to achieve self-awareness, and as an expression of social relatedness,” which is fancy talk for “people like music”.

A large part of the ambiance of your bar or restaurant is created by the music you choose. One study done in a mid-sized Dallas restaurant showed patrons who ate while slow-tempo music was playing, stayed an average of 11 minutes longer than those who ate while fast-tempo music was playing. Moreover, the slower music encouraged patrons to purchase an average of three drinks more per customer group. Seems slow jams have more utility than setting a mood… it can make you more (or less) money.

But not every bar and restaurant is the same, and your ambiance may benefit from a variety of sounds. How do you select music that personifies your brand, satisfies your customers, and yeah, makes you more money in the process?

Here are some tips to help you choose the right music for your establishment.

  • Your restaurant has an atmosphere throughout the day… your playlist should match it

Identifying what vibe you want to portray through your menu and in your decorations should guide your decision for what music to match. However, this doesn’t just apply to your theme. In fact, the time of day can often dictate the types of music as much as the theme of the restaurant. After all, dubstep and brunch don’t really go hand in hand. As a general rule, most bartenders say they start off slow and let the tempo increase as the evening progresses.

  • Put on your suspenders, get pretentious and ignore the Top 40

Let’s be frank… we ingest enough Taylor Swift simply living our lives, and you can only listen to “Hotel California” so many times before that solo doesn’t make you feel anything anymore. This isn’t us saying it: forcing your customer to listen to “Shape of You” for the umpteenth time can result in less money in your pocket. Soundtrack Your Brand co-founder, Ola Sars believes that overly familiar music is too distracting to be conducive to a relaxing dining experience. If customers are just waiting to chime in with a “BA BA BA!” every time “Sweet Caroline” comes on, that’s time spent not ordering another drink.

For the best results, give your customers a familiar sound without giving them a familiar song. Like the atmosphere pop brings? The “Indie Pop” playlist (which you can find below and updates regularly) delivers the same ambiance without you already knowing all of the words.

Does your bar with a “dive but not stabby dive” appeal play “Delia’s Gone” five times a day? Try “Southern Gothic”, which sets a similar tapestry. These playlist aren’t on our normal rotation either… we discovered both with just a few minutes of searching.

Finding something that’s just below the surface may take a little longer than throwing on whatever playlist Spotify is pushing at the top of their app, but it goes a long way in keeping your customers satisfied while not distracting them. Now, we’re not asking you to go full hipster and only play Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica on 180 gram vinyl all day. Just give your customers something they likely haven’t already heard twice today.

  • Your first thought is typically bad. Go with your second, third, or fourth options.

Quick! Think of a reggae artist.

We’ll give you a minute.

Got one?

Is it Bob Marley?

If an artist or album comes to your mind first when you think of a genre or atmosphere, chances are hundreds of other restaurateurs have had the same thought. You don’t want to be just like everybody else, and Bob Marley is just like everybody else. This goes beyond the Top 40 point above, but going to your second or third thought when it comes to artist, tempo, or even genre. There are dozens of quiet and dark bars with stunning cocktails that play jazz in attempts to be classy. It works, but it’s lazy. How many go a step beyond and find something a step beyond, something that sets them apart? Something like…

There are plenty of ways to discover lesser-known artists that are in the same genre or intriguing takes on an established genre. Using music services like Spotify, Last.fm, and Soundcloud are just a few examples of ways to build a playlist that is consistent with your theme. These (and other) services help you discover all kinds of artists who don’t first come to mind. Often, they allow you to filter music selections by genre or mood, a huge benefit for pairing your music with your theme.

  • Have your customers do the work for you

Maybe you’re not the most musically inclined restaurant owner, and maybe you don’t want to find fresh takes. After all, why are people still making music as if “Rumors” didn’t perfect it back in the 70s? No problem… you can have your customers help. There are over 3 billion internet users who use social media, and nearly all of them eat. If you’ve followed our past blogs and know how to leverage social media to build a following (as well as making every angle of your establishment Insta-worthy), you can utilize your followers to give you some feedback, recommendations, and share options you didn’t know were out there. Plus, you’ll stroke their ego. Research has shown that patrons, especially millennials, value personal, authentic experiences in the market. Taking advantage of that need for involvement by using social media to find out what they want, is an effective way of knowing what they want to hear and what they don’t want to hear.

It’s important to remember that while music can enhance or decrease your customers’ satisfaction, it’s not just the playlist that counts. Acoustics and volume play a vital role in solid music delivery. In fact, food critics even include decibel levels of the music in some of their reviews which indicate how important the volume of your music is to the experience. The average sized person absorbs 0.3 decibels, meaning the more people in your restaurant, even if they’re silent themselves, the quieter your music is. Turn up the volume as people arrive… just don’t blow them away.