Hitting the right note with a restaurant playlist
By Patrick O’Neill

Photo Courtesy of The Breakers

It’s often the first thing people notice when they walk into a restaurant or bar, sometimes before they walk in. Yet for many eating establishments, it’s the last thing on their impress-the-customer list, if it makes the list at all. It’s the music.

One of the worst things a new restaurant can do, says Lori Hon, President and Co-Founder of Gray V (www.grayv.com), which curates music for restaurants, hotels and retailers, is waiting until the last minute to focus on the music. “Many people think they’ll do it themselves. Then they get very busy and realize it’s not a good idea.”

Allowing only a couple weeks for the task not only makes it harder to put together an appropriate playlist, it leaves little time for logistics, like deciding what type of sound system to use and where to discreetly place the speakers for maximum effect.

For most successful restaurateurs, music is part of the planning process from day one and considered a crucial element in defining the restaurant. “The audio helps set the stage,” says Patric Yumul, Vice President of Operations for the Michael Mina Group (www.michaelmina.net),

Photo Courtesy of The Mina Group
which has seventeen restaurants nationwide and works with a company called The Playlist Generation (www.theplaylistgeneration.com), run by Los Angeles-based disc jockey Michael Smith, who does the music for many high-profile parties and events. “Music comforts people,” adds Yumul. “It gives them a clue of what they’ll find inside and helps form their expectations of what’s to come.”

Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group (www.danielnyc.com), with a dozen restaurants in a half dozen cities around the world, runs the culinary gamut and has the music to match. At Daniel, in New York, there is music only in the bar & lounge, not in the elegant and more formal dining room, where music would be considered somewhat of a distraction.

Photo by B. Milne

But at DBGB Kitchen & Bar, a restaurant whose name is a play on CBGB, the seminal punk rock club that once lived two blocks away, it’s a much different story. “We knew we were going to be downtown and wanted rock ‘n roll,” says Dinex Operations Director Michael Lawrence. “So it’s the Ramones, Led Zeppelin, Elvis Costello, the Rolling Stones. It’s so much fun. We even had a debate over what to put on our phone greeting message and we decided on The Clash.”

The Breakers Palm Beach has nine different restaurants within its resort, each with a distinct style and a distinct style of music, from L’Escalier, with its French haute cuisine and classical music tones to The Beach Club, its seafood-dominated restaurant, with a tropical island music mix of guitars and piano. “One big advantage of having that many restaurants in the same area,” says Nick Velardo, Director of Food & Beverage and Club Operations, “is that we don’t have to compromise and be everything to everyone. The music helps create an entirely different environment.”

Photo Courtesy of The Breakers

Muzak (www.muzak.com), which does the music for The Breakers (www.thebreakers.com), uses 100 core music programs as a base to customize playlists for a diverse group of restaurant and food service companies, which make up almost a third of its clients. “A good example,” says Brittany Lyke, Social Media and Public Relations Specialist at Muzak, is Qdoba Mexican Grill, a national burrito chain with over 500 locations. We put together a blend of indie music from the United States and indie music from Latin America for them to create a kind of hip fusion of songs from around the corner and around the globe.”

At times, the music not only helps support the restaurant’s identity, it helps establish it. At Casimir, a cozy French bistro in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the music is an eclectic international mix that stays within a smooth, mellow range. Says Casimir owner Guillaume Blestel, “A lot of the music we play isn’t familiar to our customers but when they enjoy it, they often ask, ‘What’s the name of that song? Who’s the artist?’ The music is distinctive and helps say who we are.”

That connection can be one of the things leaving that I-want-to-come-back-here impression on the customer. “No one says I want to go to XYZ restaurant because of the music,” says Yumul, “but it does enhance the experience and can then help cement that decision to return on a subconscious level.”

Or, as Lawrence puts it, “Restaurant is theatre. You have to please all the senses so when the curtain goes up, or we unlock the door for service, the music is a key player in the performance.”