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Sound Advice: How Music Can Improve the Dining Experience, Increase Traffic, and Boost Revenue

According to a recent study, music in restaurants can actually make food taste better, whereas unwanted background noise makes the food taste worse. Because sound can play a major part in the dining experience, we’ve put together some sound advice about using music to improve your customer's experience, increase traffic, and boost revenue.

It’s no secret that music has the power to make us feel good, and sound has the potential to enhance the way your customers feel while dining at your restaurant. However, for many restaurateurs, music isn’t always perceived as a strategic marketing tool. It’s more or less an afterthought. In fact, many restaurants simply create playlists from streaming services and let them repeat.

Besides not being entirely legal---because streaming services like Spotify and Pandora are intended for personal use only---for businesses looking to strengthen brand identity and build customer loyalty, using random music misses the opportunity to take advantage of music’s positive impact.

Enjoyable music can actually inspire customers to stay longer and order dessert, coffee, and other beverages, whereas annoying loud noises or unpleasant soundtracks can actually drive guests away— and drive your staff crazy!

With so much uncertainty and distress happening in your customers' lives over the last few years, music can be a bright addition to the overall dining experience. Music serves as a natural mood elevator, so use it to your advantage as much as possible. Using music to ease your customers’ stress levels and increase the feeling of a return to normalcy can positively impact customers’ well-being and ultimately increase sales.

When Robert and Metta Kaskel first decided to open Thai Rock on New York’s Long Island, just minutes from NYC, their goal was to create a place that they’d enjoy even if they didn’t own it.

Bringing in live musical entertainment to their restaurant every weekend not only helped them to compete with the competition, but it added to the laid-back, vacation-like vibe that lets customers feel like they’re getting away from it. After being forced to pull the plug on live music for the last few years, the restaurant brought back live acts this past summer, much to their customer’s delight.

Matching your restaurant’s visual design with sound design can help to create the ultimate customer experience and boost brand loyalty for your business as well. One recent study found that playing the right music at the right time can increase sales by 9.1%. Surprisingly, the study also found that it is actually better to play no music at all than to play randomly selected songs or repetitive music on a loop, which can actually decrease sales.

How to find a sound that’s right for your business

It’s not always easy to judge what sound is going to be right for your business. Music is a passion point for many of your customers, and since we listen to more music than ever before and technology enables us to walk around with millions of choices on our phones, it can be difficult to know what your customers are listening to. But understanding that there’s a difference between what your customers like and what is on-target for your audience is the key.

Another factor to be aware of is music’s strong relationship with culture. For this reason, it’s important to stay up-to-date with current affairs. Instead of relying on random selections, hand-pick the tracks to play in your spaces to avoid any politically incorrect songs from damaging your restaurant’s reputation.

Restaurateurs should pay just as much attention to sound design as interior, website, menu, lighting, and social media design. Sound is an important touchpoint because it’s actually the first sense that activates when your customers walk into your space.

What source of music rings right for your restaurant?

Any time you play downloaded or streamed digital music in your restaurant, copyright laws apply, and you have to pay for public performance licenses from the appropriate performing rights organizations (PROs). In the music industry, most songwriters and publishers are part of PROs that control licensing when restaurants play music for their customer’s listening pleasure.

The main PROs in the US are ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers; BMI, Broadcast Music, Inc.; and GMR, Global Music Rights.

PROs are known for visiting restaurants disguised as customers from time to time to monitor whether the business is in compliance with licensing laws.

Streaming Music

Many restaurants are under the false assumption that purchasing music online means it’s okay to play the song for a crowd as much as they want. It is against licensing laws, however, to share that music with the public, especially if a profit is made.

When you buy a song as digital content, you’re just paying for a license to access the song via your private devices. Similarly, when you pay for a subscription to a music streaming service like Spotify, Pandora, or Apple Music, you are simply paying for a license of the song. If you look carefully at the terms and conditions for these streaming services, you’ll find that they only include rights for non-commercial use.

If a restaurant plays digital music in their dining room or bar area with songs from any artist signed by a record label, copyright and music licensing laws require payment for public performance licenses (PPL) from performing rights organizations (PROs) that control rights to a particular song.

Some business owners decide to acquire licenses directly from each PRO. Music licensing fees for small restaurants are typically charged annually. Costs can range based on the square footage of your restaurant, whether you offer live music or audio streaming only, and the frequency of playing music.

But keep in mind that when you obtain a license from just one PRO, there may still be additional licenses needed. A license with one particular performing rights organization only grants your restaurant a license for copyrights associated with that particular PRO.

It is strongly recommended that restaurant owners pay licensing fees to all the PROs. To determine which organization for which you might need a license, visit the following links for searchable databases of each PROs catalog:

While all of this can be a complicated and expensive process, there’s some good news! PROs generally want smaller businesses to have a fair shake, so if you run a small food establishment, your fees are likely to be much lower than they would be for a chain.

And there are exceptions for establishments based on size. A section in the U.S. Federal Copyright Act states that if a restaurant is smaller than 3,767 square feet, it is exempt from PRO fees as long as the establishment does not charge customers to listen(i.e. A cover charge) and the music is not playing through a streaming service.

Music Licenses for Live Music

If you offer live music, DJs, or karaoke, you still need appropriate licenses to play music in your restaurant. If, for example, you host an open mic night for local musicians, and if these musicians have not been published, license fees are not required. Other music-based events like karaoke nights, on the other hand, DO require licensing. Depending on where your restaurant is located, you may also need a local entertainment permit for live music performances.

Paying the appropriate license fees for the music you play in your restaurant supports artists and allows them to continue creating music and earning a living themselves. Besides being the right thing to do, neglecting to pay licensing fees might save you money in the short term, but it can be a costly mistake in the long run.

Holiday music…how much is too much or too soon?

Holiday music is an important part of any seasonal marketing strategy. But when restaurants should start playing Christmas music and how much is played is another matter. When it comes to deciding how much is too much or too soon, it depends on the audience.

Playing 100% holiday music before Black Friday can be too much, too soon. The best strategy is to blend selected seasonal songs into your regular playlist. Create playlists that flow between sets of non-holiday and holiday selections. Staff will be much happier, and consumers will be motivated to stay longer and order more.

While music is one of the most important design tips to establish your restaurant’s brand, it’s important to take all of these sound pieces of advice into account when doing so. Creating a music strategy can improve your restaurant’s ambiance, increase foot traffic, and ultimately boost your bottom.

Looking for more tips about creating an appealing ambiance that elevates the customer experience? Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts!

By Eileen Strauss


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