Loud music makes you drink more, and other restaurant song secrets

The country's best bars and restaurants usually aren't content to plug the bartender's iPhone into the sound system and have his playlist serve as the night's mood music, especially because he keeps listening to a weird amount of Cherry Poppin' Daddies.

To see how some of them really get their tunes and the serious effect it can have on their unsuspecting customers, we spoke to Michael Smith, DJ/music supervisor for The Playlist Generation, on how he programs different music for different venues, and why music is so important to the overall dining/drinking experience.

record store
Flickr/Henrik Berger Jorgensen

Every bar has its own musical identity

So they just create a Spotify playlist and collect a huge fee, right?
Oh, if only it were so simple! They don't use any streaming music service at all, as it'd seriously ruin the mood if during happy hour "all of a sudden your music starts jittering" when the Internet goes out. Unless it was a bar that played dubstep all the time, and then no one would think anything was amiss. To avoid connection issues, each client has a music player with preloaded playlists that they're even empowered to add/delete music from.

How is music selected?
Smith's team visits the bar/restaurant and talks with the brand about "how they position themselves from a PR standpoint". They might even look at the menu. They go deep. After taking in all that info, they go through a "sonic identity process" to find what's unique about the bar or restaurant, and possibly if Detlef Schrempf has ever eaten there, then a team of curators (including musicians and music bloggers) pick a "core sound".

What's a "core sound"?
It's not necessarily just finding one artist, genre, or era of music to play. It's how those three all combine to create a "unique feel and special sound" that's a restaurant or bar's own. For example, when they program music for all five Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak locations (LA, SF, DC, AZ, and Miami), they want people to feel like it's "not their granddaddy's steakhouse". Because that guy is old and no fun, and he always hugs your girlfriend until it gets uncomfortable. So, at Bourbon Steak, you'll be bathed in the sexy, raw sounds of Howlin' Wolf, The Black Keys, and Gary Clark, Jr.

Another steakhouse client of theirs, Palm Restaurant, has 22 locations, and it's quite a different vibe. It has "downtempo elements", and you'll hear funk and soul music playing in the bar area, as well as jazz remixes.

speaker stack

The music during happy hour is meant to be loud

Does the music change over the course of a night?
You bet it does! Let's use Michael Mina's STRIPSTEAK as an example.

4-6pm (happy hour) -- Music with energy! Smith is programming music to "drink and have fun" to, and in the bar area he's even cognizant of having songs with a high beats per minute ratio. The volume level is loud enough so that the music is slightly in the foreground, which creates more energy. He even cited research that shows people tend to buy more drinks the louder you play music [up to a certain decibel level].

6-8pm (first seating) -- Tempo of music is slowed down and is less in the foreground.

8-10pm (second seating) -- The music's energy "doesn't get quite as high as the happy hour", but it increases from now through the end of the night. As the last seating is finishing, it slows down again.

Why don't they keep the music on full blast the entire night to make the most money?
Some bars and restaurants might, but being on "full throttle" 100% of the time can be a turn off to staff and patrons. The research says classical music played at a slower tempo will encourage guests to stay longer and order more drinks, but that's not a place anyone wants to visit for a few beers.

Drinking + music = Memories

What is it about music that allows people to have a better time when they go out?
The consultant thinks of music as an international language that can "evoke emotion" and "connect with people on a deep level", which translates to people creating a moment in time they'll never forget. When you mix that with alcohol, it becomes a powerful tool to make memories with, and potentially keep people coming back to your bar or restaurant.

Bar and restaurant owners know that harnessing the power of music will help give their customers a great experience when they visit, and why throwing on Spotify isn't going to cut it. Or maybe they should just blast some slow-tempo classical music.

Lee Breslouer writes about food and drink for Thrillist, and now wants to open a theme bar called Mozart's to test that classical music theory. Follow him at @LeeBreslouer, because you can't make up a name that good.