Sound and Music in Restaurants and Cafés

Sound and Music in Restaurants and Cafés

Most people understand intuitively that sound and music have some form of influence on us. This is why we choose different music when we go out with friends, as opposed to when we want to wake up slowly on a Sunday morning. The music changes our mood.

Scientific researchers all over the globe are looking into these influences. And as it turns out, it goes much deeper than a change in mood.

In this article, we will be looking specifically at the influence of sound and music in restaurants. How does what we hear impact our dining experience?

Physical and mental response to sound

To fully understand what is going on, we first have to look at the bigger picture. When a sound reaches our ears (Or any part of us actually; did you know you can actually hear through your bones?) it triggers a chain reaction within the body. First, the acoustic signal is translated into an electrical signal within the inner ear. This is then fed to the brain. Within the brain, a quick selection is made: “This is an opportunity, threat or social interaction, we need to process this consciously. Or, this has been here all the time, we’ll deal with it subconsciously”

Next, an appropriate response is facilitated through adaptation of biorhythms such as the breath and heart rate and the release of hormones. A sudden, loud sound might trigger stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline to set you up for quick, adequate response. Your favorite music or your lover’s voice might trigger a shot of dopamine, readying you for positive interaction.

This, in turn, triggers emotional and associative responses within you. You will feel a certain way about the situation. And you will quickly construct a mental context; “I have heard this sound before, it is my favorite music. Fun!”. And all of this happens within no time at all. Less than a second of music can trigger all the above and transport you straight back to a memory of hearing that song for the first time.


The world around us is far too complicated for us to fully comprehend and process all of the time. You could analyze how your feet feel, touching the ground. But if you were aware of this all the time, you would go crazy. There is simply too much information coming in at all times. Luckily, we are equipped with systems that filter out irrelevant stuff, and summarize the rest. Us humans are terrible at remembering little details. But a general sense of what has been going on and how it made us feel, that works for us.

The way we create this summary is what we call perception. It is our personal version of reality. And while we all differ in how we perceive the world, some experiences we share. An interesting one is how we perceive taste.

Researchers organized a wine tasting, with average consumers thinking they were being served different wines. In reality, the wine was the same all the time and the background music in the testing venue was changed. From light, springy classical to very heavy, romantic classical music. Interestingly, the panel started to subconsciously attribute their perception of the music to the taste of the wine. They reported the wine as being light and refreshing under the light music condition. The wine was described as full-bodied under the heavy music condition!

This shows, rather brilliantly, that as a restaurant owner you cannot afford to regard your cooking and the atmosphere as two different entities. That is just not how people work. Both are ingredients of our overall experience. But just think about the possibilities. Ever thought of matching music to different courses to include another sense in the experience?


If sound and music affect how we feel and perceive the world so strongly, it makes sense that they affect how we act as well. And they do. A very simple example is our speed of activity. As it turns out, we move more quickly when we listen to faster-paced music. Think about driving. Do you stick to the speed limit when a thumping dance track comes on?

In restaurants, studies have shown that people spend more time in a venue when slower music is being played. Within this additional time, they spend roughly the same money on foods, but significantly more on drinks. One study even showed that people take more bites per minute, when faster music is playing.

So what is the right music for you? It depends on your formula. If you wish to offer your guests a relaxed, luxurious night out. Go for slower music. It will make your guests feel more comfortable and it will lead to higher revenues per guest.

Another study showed, however, that in a quick service restaurant, relaxing music lead to people eating less. In the usual, harsh and loud environment, people eat quickly and quite much. When being slowed down by relaxing music, people realize they have had enough at a certain point, and simply stop eating.

The right music

The two examples above, show that there is no one right kind of music for restaurants. The key is to find music that fits your formula, brand and the atmosphere you wish to provide for your guests. Studies do prove, again and again, that music has a massive impact on how we feel and behave. So make sure it is part of your formula, and that you use its powerful influence consciously.

Storeplay Radio has various channels curated especially for cafés and restaurants including our ‘PPCA Free’, ‘Café Tasting’ & ‘Royalty Free’ playlists. All these channels will help you save on Public Performance royalties.

Sign up for Storeplay Radio below.