By Christina Mitchell. Cross-posted from East Bay Dish.

With music mentioned in a couple posts this week, I started thinking about how it affects the dining experience. I talked to food bloggers and readers who eat out regularly, and to balance it out, I asked people that actually work in restaurants. This is what they had to say:

“Music can take away from the experience, or enhance it. It pretty much has to match what I’m eating. I get distracted with loud and/or fast music. It’s like I’m being told to hurry and not enjoy the food.”
– Rodney Lee

“I have always believed that a noisy restaurant is a busy restaurant. That being said, it is the type of noise that is key to creating an enjoyable dining experience. Ambient music during the lunch hours made to relax the hard working business crowd of Oakland: King Curtis, Al Green or Jack Johnson. This is meant to relax our guests even though they may only have 45 minutes to dine and is not distracting to guests having a working business lunch. Happy hour and dinner time are more typical of ‘fun’ dining at the Tavern–The Roots, Galactic or Buena Vista Social Club: faster-paced music meant to liven up the scene and help create a party atmosphere. Different sound zones offer control of pace. In the bar and lounge area, real estate is in short supply, so guest turn time is key. Upbeat music played slightly above voice level adds energy and, in theory, increases our turn time. In the back dining room area, music is kept slightly lower than voice level, made to invite guests to relax and enjoy their dining experience. Outside speakers on our patio help bring the Tribune Tavern vibe onto the sidewalk of downtown Oakland.”
– Rob Sorviero, General Manager, Tribune Tavern

“The problem with music is that when you have a room full of people, it is near impossible to choose music that everyone enjoys. So, the fancier the restaurant, the less chance you will hear music. Case in point: French Laundry.”
– Yasuo Sonoda

“Music is an interesting topic, so very subjective. It is very much a part of the energy that is felt when people dine here. The staff decides what to play; that in itself contributes to making great energy. Not everyone is going to be happy with what kind of music we play, or the volume for that matter. We also have a very diverse clientele, so we try hard to be sensitive to who is dining at the time. David and I dine out a lot. Looking back on some amazing dining experiences, I’m not sure that music played much of a part. Maybe we were too focused on the fine dining or just plain conversation. Looking back on others, sometimes the lack of music (when the Pandora falls asleep or the CD stops) can be a little uncomfortable or dull.”
– May Seto Wasem, co-owner, Grand Lake Kitchen

“Music is mandatory. Have you ever been in a restaurant that wasn’t playing music at all? I dig it when a restaurant’s music compliments its persona!”
– Sandy Wada, Food Hoe’s Foraging

“When the music is too loud, it feels like a bar and not a restaurant. I think the volume should suit the decor/feel/atmosphere. As for the type of music, I am secretly pleased when a place I like plays songs I like. I have noticed that restaurants are getting way more ‘adventurous’ with their choices these days. It likely coincides with the ‘casualization’ of dining. Remember, like, 10 years ago, most places were playing some variation on easy listening, and the ‘hip’ places were playing downtempo electronica or international easy listening? Nowadays the music really reflects the personal tastes of the owners and almost anything goes–even hip hop, which would have totally been banned not too long ago. Overall, I like to have some background music, not too loud, since it adds to the place setting and atmosphere. But I still want to hear conversation!”
– Jame-Ane Ervin

“A lot of our staff is frankly a lot younger and hipper than either Allison or myself, so we let them pick the music and set the mood. A lot of our staff are also in bands themselves, so we love it when they play recordings of their own bands at the restaurant because it adds a personalized touch and makes Homeroom an even more special place to visit.”
– Erin Wade, co-owner, Homeroom

“I think it is an especially nice touch when there is a great live band. Saul’s has amazing klezmer music on Monday nights that really makes for a dining experience. Music is sort of a way to raise a great meal to a great experience. It adds another sense to please. But if it’s too loud, or ill-fitting, it can ruin a meal, no matter how delicious.”
– Tess Reiche-Johnson

“I think that music can add to the experience. Places I can think of that use music well are Comal, District and Mua. You may not like the music at those places, but it is almost part of the restaurant’s brand. I can’t ever remember actually being annoyed by music, but I have been annoyed by the general loudness that’s a problem in so many places now.”
– Leigh Costain, Eat Oakland

“I love music. My life would be less without it. How does that affect the dining experience? I am not really sure. I remember going to eat at Commonwealth in San Fran and hearing Judas Priest playing when we walked in. I thought it was great! It did not really fit the decor but it fit the vibe. When I worked at Bocanova I would make playlists on my iPod and plug it into the system to play. I don’t know if the guests enjoyed it as much as the staff and I did. I loved to see the staff suddenly recognize a song and bop along to it. Guests would do the same, sometimes. But back to dining and music… We use Pandora for our music so we can program stations we like. During the day I like to play stations like Neko Case, Bo Diddley, My Morning Jacket, Sam Cooke and Al Green, stuff that is lighter and maybe a little softer. For Sunday brunch, I like to play the Hits From the 80s station. Guests and staff seem to enjoy it! At dinner, we branch out a little more. During the week, it is jazz, usually, Miles Davis or Art Blakey or Funk Jazz. We play electronica sometimes, either Galactic or Brazilian Girls, and sometimes we play blues and rock. It really depends on the mood of the evening. For me, I like to play music that does not intrude on the guests’ dining experience, but also that the staff will hear a snippet of, and it will lighten their step for a moment. On Sunday nights, I will often play the Led Zeppelin station which introduces some edgier, harder rock, but it seems to fit the night. Music and dining go hand in hand, but the music takes the back seat. It should not intrude on the guest’s experience but should enhance it, maybe be playful and disarming. I love to hear a nice mix of music when I am out, not just Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin, though I love them both. I think if you can create a playlist that has some soft rock, hard rock, jazz, electronic, country and maybe house music or dance music, it will entertain the guests and the staff because the variety keeps people interested.”
– Tommy Cummings, General Manager at Lungomare

“I have yet to eat at a place where the music added anything to the experience. I love music, but food is something that demands my attention, as do the people I’m with if I’m in a group. Since I find that to be the case, I usually don’t notice it unless it’s too loud or it’s really bad. Even at home, I might really get into a song or into a meal but I never think to combine the two because it would be distracting.”
– Kealoha Pomerantz

“Personally, I love music, and feel very strongly about its presence in setting a mood and enhancing an environment. I have many thoughts on the subject, but I will only state my personal views and how they relate directly to Homestead. For Homestead, I feel that music adds a warm layer of noise to the dining room and creates a more lively atmosphere. The struggle for me is finding the balance in volume. Ideally, the music is not a distraction or a detraction from a guest’s dining experience. The most important thing I look for in a dining experience is being able to enjoy my company in a comfortable environment. If any component is out of balance, then it becomes a distraction. Relating to volume, this typically means that we have to adjust throughout the night. At Homestead, we tend to stick to classics, mostly because that is what my husband and I listen to, but also because they tend to have mass appeal and are generally unoffensive. Lots of blues like Robert Johnson and RL Burnside. We play a lot of Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, Temptations, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, CCR. We have a great appreciation for early jazz. We are also huge fans of the Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Band as well. I have a soft spot and get nostalgic over bluegrass. My own personal taste varies greatly, and during our prep time in the morning while we are still closed, our mix can become quite eclectic, ranging from said classics above, to 50s bop, punk rock, metal, hip hop and onward; typically during kitchen prep time it’s anything high energy to keep us moving. We use a service to choose our music, set up stations that we enjoy, and the service pretty much handles it from there, choosing a random playlist within the style of the station. We have several stations set up and change them up throughout the week to keep things from getting stale. Our sound system is directly linked to my cellphone, so I have instant control wherever I am in the restaurant if we need to change the volume or song (sometimes a song will come on that just does not fit in with what we are going for and it’s a great asset to be able to skip it and maintain control). Ultimately I will reiterate that I think music is essential in helping create a mood and environment, but should never detract from the experience, nor distract; only enhance.”
– Liz Sassen, co-owner, Homestead

What do you think?

One Response

  1. Allure Nobell

    Honestly as a diner I do not like music in restaurants. Between the ambient conversation, which is often quite loud, and the music, it is sensory overload. When the music gets in the way of having a conversation, I find it frustrating, and the dining experience is diminished.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.