It is commonly known that a restaurant's ambience affects diners' behaviour and can even affect how diners taste their food. It has also been reported anti-social behaviour can be reduced by playing classical music in restaurants.
More of that in a moment, but it is a researched fact that sound and more importantly sound levels impact the ambience and ultimately the taste of food, either enhancing or distracting from taste experiences.
Dan Pashman, host of WNYC’s The Sporkful podcast is reported as saying, “We now know that the people who designed potato chip bags didn't make them noisy for the sake of the chips. They made them noisy for the sensory experience".
“They understand that a noisy food is better complemented with a noisy package. And in fact research has shown that if people hear the sound of that packaging being crumpled while they're eating the chips, they will think that the chips are crisper, crunchier, fresher, better only because that sound is being played in the background", continues Pashman.
“Research shows that when you're surrounded by very high decibel level, your taste perception goes down. So loud music means the food will have less flavour".
It also it works the same in an airplane where you have a high decibel level. And that's one of the reasons why you get less taste perception on an airplane,” Pashman adds.
Different types of music can also change the way the tastes of complicated types of food are perceived.
“When you have a food like a dark chocolate or a coffee that has a lot of varying and complementary or even contrasting notes like sweetness and bitterness, it can be hard for your brain to make sense of it all and to latch on to something".
And these different pitches of sounds and of music sort of act as ways to highlight certain features of a food", Pashman concludes.
Taking these factors in to account it becomes critical for restaurant owners and restaurant chain operators choose the right music for their restaurants. You'd expect your local Chinese restaurant, or Indian, Mexican or Italian restaurant to match their music choices to their theme and play background music to enhance their ambience.
A recenty study by the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science also indicates that background music levels affects food choices and behaviour.
A pilot study, two field experiments, and five lab studies show that low (vs. high or no) volume music/noise leads to increased sales of healthy foods due to induced relaxation. In contrast, high volume music/noise tends to enhance excitement levels, which in turn leads to unhealthy food choices.
“Restaurants and supermarkets can use ambient music strategically to influence consumer buying behaviour,” study author Dr Dipayan Biswas from the University of South Florida said.
“Retail atmospherics is becoming an increasingly important strategic tool for stores and restaurants.
During his research, Biswas conducted an experiment at a café in Stockholm where various genres of music were played separately at different volume leves, 55Db and 70Db.
Analysing customers' behaviour over several hours on multiple days, data revealed more people ordered something unhealthy when exposed to louder music playing than those who dined during quieter times.
In fact London branches of a well known fast-food hamburger chain use classical music (and the removal of wifi) to reduce anti-social behaviour in a number of their restaurants during late afternoons and evenings to good effect to encourage more acceptable behaviour from diners.
Sarah Young, The Independent
Elizabeth Shockman, PRI
Dipayan Biswas, Academy of Marketing Science
Photo by Larisa Birta