Music is a relatively universal human experience; while taste and preference are undoubtedly subjective, music is an excellent tool. We can’t say there’s one surefire type of music to play to boost customer engagement or sales, but we can tell you that music choice is essential for creating the proper ambiance.
From a Michelin-starred fine-dining French joint to the bustling neighborhood pizza spot, music sets the tone for your business - but what tone do you want? That is perhaps the most critical question you can ask yourself when selecting music, though it’s certainly not the only one.
Let’s dive into picking the proper music for your restaurant.
Tone is Everything
Let’s start small. When picking music for your restaurant to play, there are several factors to consider - though its tone is undoubtedly the most important.
While you can interpret this in many ways, let’s use a real-world example to show what we mean.
Let’s say you’re going out for the night with friends; you discuss food and drink options, eventually settling on trying out the new bar downtown. Your group of friends consists of adults in their late thirties to early forties, many of whom have children and other “real life” obligations.
If you entered that new bar only to find it was blaring punk rock or metal, likely, you’d quickly opt for a quieter environment. But if your friend group were suddenly younger and free of adulthood’s responsibilities (or metalheads), that loud, grungy sound would likely draw you in, promising adventure.
This is why tone is so important; music sets the vibe for your business - not just for the employees but also for your customers. If you want a grungy, hip restaurant, you need to feed that energy with grungy, hip music. And on the same note, a refined, relaxing restaurant needs tasteful music to communicate that ambiance to its customers.
It’s also worth noting that seasonal music is a very real genre, and playing holiday music during winter months is almost always a surefire hit - though maybe try to wait until the proper season. (Nobody likes hearing Jingle Bells in October.)
Quantity vs. Quality
If you want to be a “music spot,” there’s a significant distinction between the quantity and the quality of music you select.
The truth of the matter is that music is incredibly subjective; not everyone will love every music choice. But deciding to opt for a “shotgun approach,” where you throw a bunch of options at customers and hope that one or two sticks, is a surefire way to find failure.
And, importantly, this means that your music selection is equally as crucial as settling on a specific niche. Don’t replay the same two or three artists, albums, or playlists, day in and day out; instead, find a range of artists in your niche and slowly switch through them. This provides a dynamic environment for your employees and customers, and makes things a bit easier to adjust as needed.
(Pssst - music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify are excellent for this. You can simply throw on a “radio station” and let it play.)
This all goes to say one straightforward (but essential) thing:
Find your niche and stick to it; just as with menu design, more is not always better in music.
The Three Questions
With the basics out of the way, there are really only three questions you need to ask yourself to determine what type of music you should play in your restaurant:
- Who is my clientele?
- What does my clientele want?
- What is missing in my market at the moment?
Questions one and two are significant to making most restaurant decisions because, realistically, it just boils down to knowing your target audience. But, unlike other types of businesses, restaurants can have multiple audiences at any given moment. So, look at your restaurant’s metrics - who comes in, and when?
If your lunch hours primarily consist of retirees, then something softer and more broadly acceptable is likely the move. But if you have a late-night rush of inebriated college students, a rowdier, louder tone would fit better! And if you’re an ethnic food spot, playing music commonly associated with your food (i.e., mariachi music in a Latin restaurant or Japanese music in a sushi spot) can help solidify your restaurant’s theme.
And best of all, it’s the 21st century, meaning you can change your music selection with the flick of a finger!
Ultimately, this all boils down to knowing who frequents your business and what they want.
And that brings us to question three - filling the gap in your market. Most towns and cities have a selection of restaurants, each catering to a different clientele.
If you find that one type of venue or theme is missing (maybe a metal or jazz bar?), your decision gets much more straightforward. It’s almost always better to fill a missing niche than to try and compete with other venues for the same clientele.
Ultimately, selecting the music you’ll play in your restaurant is relatively straightforward once you know what to ask. Question who your clientele is, what they tend to want in terms of music, the tone you’re aiming to achieve, and what niches you may be able to fill in your market. Each of these questions will inform what you play.
And, for the sake of your employees, please - wait for seasonal music until the season has actually begun. Cooks, servers, and bartenders can only hear the same twelve-song loop of Christmas music for so long before losing their minds.