While taste is the most important sense for a restaurant to impress, it is far from the only. The whole atmosphere of the restaurant must be considered, including the restaurant’s music. 

It is easy to get music wrong. We’ve all been somewhere where the restaurant background music was off-brand, too loud, or just downright irritating. Like the look of a restaurant, which should be on-brand, orderly and interesting, the music should reflect and reinforce these values. 

When used correctly, restaurant background music can accomplish this. If leveraged to its fullest extent, restaurant music can play a much bigger role. To provide some context, sound and music has been shown to influence customer habits. 

A dramatic example of this was found by The National Library of Medicine.  They found that music can affect people’s sense of taste because music and sound may “change what (we think) we taste.” 

“The emotional attributes (or connotation) of a piece of music could influence people’s perception of red or white wine,” the study continued. “Listening to a lower-pitched soundscape can help to emphasize the bitter notes in a bittersweet toffee while listening to a soundscape with a higher pitch tends to bring out its sweetness.”

Tempo of the Music 

Speed of consumption and amount purchased has been shown to be influenced by sound. Adjusting speed and tempo influences the actual time spent at an establishment by altering perceived time spent. It was found that customers spent a ‘significantly’ longer time dining when slow music was playing. 

“The music tempo was found to have a significant effect on money spent on both food and drink at the restaurant,” the study reported. 

Any song that has a beats per minute (BPM) above 109 is considered fast. For more context, Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger has a BPM of 109. 

Restaurant background music or playlists can be adjusted on the fly. If prioritizing high turnover, fast music can be played. If/when retention is key, slow music can be queued to keep guests lingering. Alternatively, a mixture of the two can be used at different times of the day helping with shift or menu changes. 


Volume of the Music 

Extremes should be avoided. Too loud is not ideal for dinner music, while too low gives people the impression closing time is imminent. 

Audiologists agree that background music should not exceed 70 decibels (dB) – the volume of a nearby vacuum cleaner – but should not fall below 50 dB – moderate rainfall. It should be noted that many restaurant levels have clocked noise levels of 95 dB or louder, equivalent to a nearby jackhammer.

Anything above 85 db is considered a health hazard by OSHA and the WHO.  

When it comes to sound not all spaces are created equal. Acoustics are absorbed by soft surfaces actually making the sounds softer, more pleasant and confining them into the space.

A few things can be done in a restaurant to make it a more acoustic friendly environment. Soft table linens and carpet will absorb acoustics, rubber feet on chairs will eliminate background noise and acoustic paneling in intelligent places can make a huge difference. 

Considerations for Playlist

Keep music choices on brand – for instance it was found that customers were more likely to purchase high-end wines when classical restaurant background music was playing. 

Consider the time of day – As discussed earlier, speed and tempo can be leveraged. A lunch playlist could be fast and upbeat, while dinner music could be slower keeping patrons in their seats for longer. 

Crowd size and demographic –  Consider who is frequenting your establishment and the number of people there, as both of these factors could affect the volume of the restaurant background music. Young people like their music louder, while middle aged and older demographics do not. 

The human body, like other soft surfaces, can absorb acoustics. In a full-house situation, bodies can severely impact the volume levels of restaurant music. And with a lot of people comes a lot of talking, which takes place at around 60 dB; this can add up fast and volume may need to be adjusted. 

You should have three-to-five on brand, timing specific playlists made and ready to go. They can be rotated based on the time-of-day, vibe or personal preference. The flexibility multiple playlists offer is positive for both guests and staff, who should not get bored of the music to the point of it negatively affecting their work. 

To that end, playlists should not be a couple dozen songs playing on repeat, restaurant music playlists should be a couple hundred songs that last hours without any repeats. 

Note on Sourcing and Rights

Sourcing is where this gets tricky. Streaming is a great option, but services like Apple music and Spotify are not authorized for commercial use. 

In the United States you need to apply for a commercial license to use copyrighted music from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers

In Canada you need a license from The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada or a Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency license. 

Do not play copyrighted music without a license as large fines can result. 

Until you acquire a license YouTube has an extensive royalty free library that can be used to make restaurant music playlist. 

Live Music

Before this avenue is explored, consider if you have the infrastructure to host a live musician or band. A minimum, for a four piece band, of nine-feet by nine-feet is recommended

A stage, or raised floor, is nice but not a necessity. What is mandatory is proper stage and sound equipment. 

Organizing live music means spending a few additional man-hours setting up the restaurant and finding a source of local musicians who fit your brand. But the benefits include being known as a local music venue, appearing on Facebook events in your area, word of mouth spread and the band itself drumming up support for your restaurant.

About Smooth Commerce

Smooth Commerce is an all-in-one digital commerce and customer marketing platform for restaurants that combines online and mobile ordering, delivery, loyalty, and powerful marketing tools to help you grow your business, while giving you access to your customer data to help grow your restaurant. If you would like to learn more or talk to a representative from Smooth Commerce about how our platform can help you meet your loyalty goals, contact us at learnmore@smooth.tech.