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Why is music necessary in restaurants?

I never got the idea of music in restaurants. And, because I am a hearing aid wearer, I have come to really dislike music in restaurants! It's difficult enough to have a conversation with the person across the table (or even in the seat beside me at times) without having to try to discern words over music. Hearing aids act as amplifiers. Their primary short-comings are that they don't do a good job of filtering out background noise and they don't help with clarity. It doesn't help if you speak loudly to me, it helps if you enunciate. Music merely makes it more difficult to understand what's being said. And music, in places that folks with normal hearing think are noisy, just adds to the problem. Can we do without the music?

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  1. In my experience, there are a couple of reasons restaurants usually have music. One is to set an image or to create or enhance an atmosphere. The other is privacy. Generally, if background music is being employed correctly, diners cannot clearly hear the conversations at neighboring tables.

    1. It appears to be an American phenomenon; one of the things I enjoyed most about eating in France and Italy was the lack of any soundtrack beyond the murmur of conversation and the gentle scrape of cutlery. My favorite restaurant here in Pasadena from that standpoint is Maison Akira, where the music is baroque and classical chamber music played just loudly enough to listen to if you want to, but quietly enough so that one may converse in normal tones. When we're discussing loud vs. quiet here on Chowhound, however, I am usually very much in the minority; most folks nowadays equate "quiet" with "boring", and "loud" with "exciting". Hey, I just want to be excited about the food …

      1. Music also helps to drown out the sounds of eating, chewing, crunching and slurping which some, in this culture, might find rather distastful. And I DO know that in certain Asian cultures, slurping your noodles is a demonstration of respect to the food preparer.

        1. " murmur of conversation and the gentle scrape of cutlery"
          Love how you wrote that Will. Beautifully put.... :)

          I don't get it either.

          I took my mom to the doctor a couple of years ago for extensive testing of this and that.

          Being elderly, it wasn't easy to get her to do the things expected of her, the pain of needles etc. and how do you got a person into one of those MRI machines and explain that it's necessary I'd like to know.

          Anyway, lunch was in order as both of us were hungry and she'd done really well at the Dr. Mexican place across the street from the hospital was close and who doesn't like Mexican food?

          The music was loud, obnoxious and MF-ing words. I mean those were the words to the songs being played there. Loud MF-ing words for me to eat by, really? And for mom to listen to really? I went looking for a person to address my issue with to ask them how appropriate that CRAP was and couldn't find anyone. As we sat and waited for our meal, I was steaming fuming mad. Food came, I told them I'd been looking for anyone that worked there to turn that garbage off, they didn't understand my problem or concern and placed our food in front of us. I took mom out right then. Mom didn't understand why I took her out but we ended up in Bob's Big Boy for a burger instead where no music of any kind was on the airwaves, thankfully.

          I agree, I vote for no music.

          3 Replies
          1. re: iL Divo

            To me, the " murmur of conversation and the gentle scrape of cutlery", along with the sounds of chewing, cell phones, and othe ambient noise is cacaphony, like trying to hear the television when a vacuum cleaner is running. Music, almost any music, as long as it is not so loud as to be interuptive, is fine by me. But I suppose we all have different threshholds of what constitutes 'interuptive'.

            1. re: iL Divo

              So did they turn the music on after you'd been seated and placed your orders? Because if it was playing when you walked in, **that** would have been the time to leave. Not after you got your food. (Which I certainly hope you paid for; ordering food and then walking out after it's been delivered is theft, plain and simple.)

            2. I can happily do without the music. Thankfully, it is not common where I am.

              It is either too loud so that it interupts. Or it is too quiet - so you can't quite make out that song that you're sure you really know really well, which interrupts while you're trying to work it out.

              1. It drowns out the cell phone conversations.

                1. there's a financially driven psycho-social component to it as well. certain genres, beats & decibel levels have been shown to increase the speed & volume of a customer's food & drink consumption...which means higher sales AND faster turnover.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    it can work the other way too. There is a bar in Delray Beach Fl that was playing opera so loudly that, after a few requests to turn it down and being refused, my 20 year old daughter and me left after one drink. We would have stayed for dinner but we couldn't talk.

                    1. re: smartie

                      oh i've walked out of restaurants and even retail stores that had the music cranked up too loud...but when done *correctly* it's apparently effective at increasing sales.

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        It can also increase music sales, to some degree. I kind of like it when I visit a local cafe and they are playing local music. Or even playing music that is unknown to me at all. I will occasionally ask what they are playing and later seek it out, if I like it.

                  2. When writing a review of a resto in Philadelphia recently, only fault l could find was the dreadful music. Now after a month in Paris, what a delight to have no music.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      I'm looking forward to heading back to Europe in about a month. It's so pleasant to be able to have a normal conversation - even when the tables are only inches apart.

                    2. i like music in the background. it is just as much a part of the decor and feel of a place as wall color, place settings, etcetc.

                      1. I definitely like music in the background. I don't like deafening music, but I don't find that music at an audible, yet not obnoxious, level detracts from atmosphere (in fact, it can add to it) or impedes conversation.

                        1. Soon they'll put mariachi bands in banks.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: beevod

                            Speaking as a musician: Hey, a gig is a gig!

                            1. re: beevod

                              I hope so. I hate going to the bank, it's so boring.

                            2. "If music be the food of love, play on."
                              Wm. Shakespeare

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Rmis32

                                I love this line! First words my first husband ever said to me. Yeah, he's an ex, but a fond ex.

                                I like music and food together, appropriately.

                                1. re: Rmis32

                                  Let's keep it the "food of love". Play it in the bedroom!

                                2. I'll chime in with this: while I detest loud and intrusive music in a dining establishment, I have also found the absence of it to be oddly problematic. When occasionally dining in a more upscale restaurant with no music playing, I have found that the relative *silence* can be so heavy that is causes my Hub and I to perhaps unconsciously over- adjust our speaking voices downward. Result? A lot of "Huh? What did you say?" I find it's not my ideal situation, and results in less conversation than I typically prefer with a meal out. My perfect situation is some low instrumental music, enough to provide a pleasant backdrop, but not enough to interfere with hearing my companion.

                                  1. So you can chew to a beat.

                                    1. Music isn't necessary. Then again, neither are tablecloths. Or flatware. (The sound of metal cutlery striking ceramic plates can be especially challenging for someone who wears a hearing aid, but that doesn't mean all restaurants should switch to plastic utensils and Chinette.)

                                      But each of these things helps set a tone. Whether it's white tablecloths and Chopin, beachside seating and Bob Marley, or sleek modernism and Radiohead, appropriate music can be an important part of a restaurant's atmosphere.

                                      According to one study conducted in the UK by Entertainment Media Research, 80% of patrons prefer to have background music playing while they dine. Based on Harters' comment above, I suspect the number would be even higher in the US.

                                      Of course, those in the minority are free to complain. They always have, and it's never done any good. Here's an opinion piece from the New York Times bemoaning the ubiquity of music in restaurants. Of course, it was written in 1903, so the music was being produced by orchestras, but the complaints haven't changed. And neither have the preferences of a majority of diners or restaurants' willingness to accommodate them. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract...

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: alanbarnes


                                        Bear in mind the study you quote will hardly have been unbiased - EMR is a consultancy in the music industry. Their website notes that their sampling base are music radio listeners so likely to be pro-music.

                                        1. re: Harters

                                          No doubt. I started to include some adjectives about the study, but figured that identifying it as conducted by EMR was enough to indicate that a grain of salt might be in order.

                                      2. Just to be clear, I am definitely not anti-music. I own a lot of music. I listen to music in the car, in my home, etc. My problem is music in restaurants. I don't have a problem with music in bars. If I go to a bar, I'm surprised when there is no music. How many of you play music during dinner in your homes? I'm aware that lots of folks eat while watching TV. I can't recall on family member or friend that has played music during a dinner at their home.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: bucksguy14

                                          i've often played music during dinner

                                          1. re: bucksguy14

                                            I often have music on during dinner. Always do when I have people over.

                                            1. re: bucksguy14

                                              ALL. THE. TIME. I grew up in a household in which the kitchen TV was turned off as soon as the news was over and/or the main was headed for the dining room, and the radio/tapes/CDs turned on. Most, if not all, of my classic rock (and a reasonable share of my classical) education was imparted at the dinner table.

                                              Granted, when it's just me at home, my background noise is generally the TV, because I like having people to look at while I eat. But restaurants with no music feel very strange to me, and I always put on music when I'm feeding company. And dining out solo is infinitely more pleasant if you can relax and zone out to a decent playlist as you nibble and sip rather than involuntarily eavesdropping on the next table over.

                                              I agree that too-loud music is irritating, especially when the decor clatters along with the plates, but no music at all? I don't think I would enjoy that any more.

                                              1. re: bucksguy14

                                                TV during dinner is strictly verboten in my house - it kills conversation. Music, on the other hand, is encouraged. There's an iPod dock right next to the dining table.

                                                1. re: bucksguy14

                                                  I love cooking to music, and if I have people over, usually have something low key on the player. I have family that do this, others that don't. Same goes for friends.

                                                2. The music should not be loud enough to be heard when the restaurant is busy, but should fill the dining room with a little noise when its slow IMO.

                                                  Eating in a slow restaurant with no music is not a good experience IMO, something about it feels very "off"
                                                  Its just too quiet.

                                                  1. Last night a friend and I had dinner at JUPITER in Hastings-On-Hudson, NY. We were the first to arrive and there was wild music being played. The youthful kitchen staff was madly chopping and stirring and I decided to ignore it, until they cranked it up! Called the waiter over, asked if he could either turn it down or put on some classical music. He immediately turned it off and seconds later, Mozart wafted through the speakers. It was fabulous! We will eat there again very soon - everyone there is truly concerned that the diners have a good experience! What a great CONCEPT!

                                                    1. I've always thought that music was important in a restaurant. On occasion, I'm also the type to have music playing during dinner time because sometimes it can just get too quiet and its nice to have something to listen to.

                                                      My parents own a restaurant and when the amp finally died out after a couple of years, it was so weird eating in the restaurant without the music. And my parents aren't ones to replace it either and has just left it there. Music definitely helps drain the slurps and minor noises people make when they eat and can be a little overbearing when that is all you hear. And plus, alot of the newer upscale restaurants from where I am are turning to live music on certain nights of the week. Definitely a plus in my opinion, however there is a line when it gets too loud.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Roarasaur

                                                        Very interesting comment. I wouldnt normally associate upscale restaurants with also being live music venues. But then, as others have commented, here in Europe, most places wouldnt have background music so I can't see them getting a live act in.

                                                      2. I like music in restaurants. I don't like to eat at quiet places, makes me nervous. I don't however like mindless music for the sake of having some noise to cover up the sound of the knife on plates. Some great restaurants they have match the decor, the food and the music very artfully, so if you go in there one time and the sound system is broken, you don't feel like you got your money's worth. You feel short changed and somehow, hungry when you leave, not in your stomach, but in your soul there is a place that says, I am missing something tonight and I don't know what? It's the music dummy.

                                                        1. Oh music I love; noise is another matter. Some restaurants don't keep the volume at a comfortable level. I often wonder if the staff is trying to drowned out the customers.

                                                          1. As a musician, I'm glad when there's music in restaurants; it's the sound of me making money, and the necessity of keeping my amp in the sweet spot between "0" and "1" doesn't deter me. That said, out of all the culinary establishments I've played in, I can't honestly recommend eating in ANY of them. And it's a long list.

                                                            11 Replies
                                                            1. re: BobtheBigPig

                                                              Here's a concept: (iPad) hand held jukebox for the table. Pick your tune, listen at your table, turn it off when you leave. There are so many Internet radio stations, playlists sites, iTunes, etc. a customer or large party could open, select and listen to their tunes while waiting for their meal. Would love to see that happen....or has it...anyone?

                                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                                I've seen individual TV's at each table in a sports bar, major distraction if on. How would you keep the sound from spilling over to nearby tables and clashing? I'd dare say those devices would have to be bolted down to keep them from walking away.....

                                                                1. re: im_nomad

                                                                  Good points. Well original jukeboxes had a set volume control from low to a certain "personal" high level and they were installed into the table. I would assume a similar set up would be required. But if restaurants are beginning to utilize iPads for menu ordering, wine lists, food photos, chef credentials and so forth, a touch of the same pad could change to a radio/playlist while diners waited and enjoyed their meal.

                                                                  Naturally a certain restaurant floor configuration would be a consideration but I think the original concept has potential today...and will probably happen...if it hasn't already.

                                                                  My dh and I have four older children between us and we love music but the musical tastes really run the gamut. A modern jukebox would be fun at our table.

                                                                  1. re: im_nomad

                                                                    those quarter-operated tvs! fun flashback, but yeah very kitchy and distracting. people would get into max volume wars with neighboring tables and spend the whole restaurant experience trying to wrest audio control over the experience, expect the restaurant staff to take one party's side over another, manually adjust their machines rather than serving food, etc. you just don't have that problem w ambient music put on by the house--all the customers are on the same playing field, and since the house generally doesn't want to alienate its own customers, the ambient music is less likely to be a problem than if the customers picked their own individual playlists. the focus goes back to the food and the dining experience, a good thing.

                                                                    i also think that technology is moving fast enough that any idea like the one above would be outdated quickly enough that it's just an impractical expenditure for a restaurant. arguably, iphone/pad/etc is already obsolete. why should a restaurant put in mini bose speakers at each individual table, when they could buy better cooking equipment, upgrade their ingredients, or try to get their cooks and dishwashers up to a living wage? and what about the folks who simply want to stop at their neighborhood bistro to chat and have a nice meal, but neglect to BYOiphone w playlist? are they just stuck trying to have a conversation with slayer playing in the booth on one side of them, and immortal technique on the other? sounds like a good way to get a net loss of clientele.

                                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                                      Ha! Or, you could be completely wrong. Like the jukebox of old, a coin gets you in and time gets you out. No one says you'd have to use it.

                                                                      To each their (idea) own.

                                                                    2. re: im_nomad

                                                                      This is where the cone of silence would come in, if it existed of course. But without it, I dont see personal ipods or TV's working out too well. I do of course completely agree with the idea that the music needs to match the style and ambience of the restaurant. The last thing you want to hear in an upscale restaurant is some "lil wayne" and the same thing could be said about pubs.

                                                                      There is this specific memory I have of eating at a fancier restaurant when the band started playing "come fly with me" and ended with with the entire restaurant clapping. It was excellent. Music is definitely necessary.

                                                                      1. re: Roarasaur

                                                                        How the music is enjoyed doesn't need to be a one size fits all. I'm not suggesting that an iPad concept would work at every restaurant but for the ones that have already installed their use w/customers or are thinking about it as a fit for their place, why not? I'll leave it to the owners to decide :)

                                                                    3. re: HillJ

                                                                      many a diner used to ahve individual jukeboxes at the tables

                                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                                          as do i! and occasionally when i catch certain nostalgic tunes on the 70s or 80s satellite radio stations it sends me right back there, sitting at a table with my friends digging into a plate of crispy home fries or cheese fries w/gravy :)

                                                                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                            Maybe it's my NJ diner background showing here, but I literally hung out in diners with jukeboxes as a young teenager and don't recall one instance where someone had an issue with the music playing. In this day and age we all have gadgets with portable music and we find fault with public music? It's harder and harder NOT to be nostalgic....my diner special was always eggs and home fries...oh and any PIE!

                                                                  2. If I don't find the music obtrusive I like it, if it is obtrusive it makes me want to punch somebody.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: redfish62

                                                                      Is that before a few drinks or after redfish? Punch somebody over music? wow...

                                                                    2. Although I do think that soft music in the background while dining is pleasant, I hate overly loud music in restaurants, because it clearly inhibits conversation.

                                                                      One fact that hasn't been mentioned here may be the major reason some restaurants play loud music! It has been shown in several environmental studies, and repeated here on this sie, that loud music in restaurants increases table turnover, and thus presumably, profits. I suspect that this is related to the fact that it inhibits conversation. Also, we move faster when listening to fast music...do we also eat faster?? Please don't ask me to provide the reference...I don't recall where I've read it...perhaps someone else will know and post it.