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Music to Your Customers’ Ears

My favorite restaurant is a small, local spot. The ambiance is beautiful and detailed, the service is friendly and knowledgeable, and, obviously, the food is fantastic.  But one of my favorite features of this place is the playlist. Without fail, every time I go, I find myself noticing song after song that I mentally note to add to my Spotify account. It’s like the playlist was made specifically for me. 

A research study conducted by Soundtrack Your Brand (an evolution of Spotify Business) found that the quality of your restaurant’s playlist can increase or decrease your sales accordingly.  The gist of the report is that an on-brand playlist generates as much as 9.1% more in sales. 

First things first – make sure you license your music. You can find a simple list of rules here, but don’t just stream from your personal Pandora or Spotify account, because you could face hefty fines. Once you have that squared away, the main thing you want to focus on is staying on-brand. Think about what customers would expect to hear when they eat at your restaurant, and deliver that, only better. A common mistake is for restaurateurs to play music based on their own preferences, which may not jibe with the ambiance you’re trying to create. Curating a thoughtful list can vastly contribute to positive customer impressions.

Once you identify your vibe, create playlists that suit the crowd throughout the day. You’ll want to adjust your volume, tempo and genres accordingly. More upbeat music helps turn tables, while slower music helps increase drink sales. As your restaurant gets more crowded, you’ll want to pump up the volume, but not so loud that customers need to shout to be heard, especially since restaurant acoustics can be tricky. Music should be in the background, not something customers are fighting to be heard over. 

Finally, your customers, and especially your employees, will appreciate variety and surprise. Soundtrack Your Brand recommends avoiding chart-toppers. While everyone likes to hear a well-loved, familiar song now and then, unexpected music can be just as good. One tip from NYC restaurateur Frank Falcinelli is to play the original versions of songs made more famous by covers; another is to play less popular songs from popular albums. Brooks Headly of Superiority Burger in NYC had friends help design a playlist, with some guidelines. The result was an eclectic, but pleasing mix. A long playlist ensures that employee morale won’t sink with repetition, and that customers can always expect something fresh. 

I’ll never forget the playlists of the restaurants where I worked – Barry Manilow, The Go-Gos and the Grease soundtrack bring back memories of slinging pancakes and pouring coffee at my summer waitressing gig on the Jersey Shore. Bebel Gilberto reminds me of the smell of brussels sprouts grilling on the plancha at the NYC hotspot where I worked while I was in graduate school. Make the link between your music and your restaurant a fond one for your customers. 

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