How to choose the right background music for restaurants

August 21, 2018 • 13 minutes

Kate Palanchuk
Kate Palanchuk
Content Marketer at Poster POS. Kate digs deep into the layers of new technologies and trends in the restaurant business to provide the best content for the blog readers.

Can you imagine the world without music? Well, we neither. Music plays everywhere: in people’s homes, on the street, in restaurants and cafes, and generally in every pair of headphones. But have you ever thought about why in certain places a certain type of music is played?

Clever restaurant management teams! For example, in a shopping mall, music forms a sound barrier that separates people from background noise and creates the right atmosphere. Fast food restaurants need people to eat fast and go so they choose energetic music. Restaurants and cafes need just the opposite. For them it's important that guests can relax, stay longer, and order several times.

Your restaurant’s background music can be a small detail adding to the vibe of your location or the heart of the whole concept. One of our restaurant management tips for your team would be: remember that background music matters so don't treat it as an afterthought.

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How customer behavior is affected by the choice of restaurant music

How to choose the right background music for restaurants? First of all, keep in mind that background music, just like interior design, affects people’s moods: it makes you think, be sad, happy or dreamy, relaxed or eager to dance. There is an endless variety of musical genres and each of them has an individual effect. Depending on how you want to influence your visitors, each restaurant type needs a personal playlist.

Restaurant background music tactics

Music can either attract guests to your restaurant or make them want to leave as fast as possible. There are many reasons for the latter, for example, when it’s too loud indoors, or you play a genre that doesn’t match the restaurant concept or the broadcast music has a horrible sound quality. To help you avoid these mistakes, we decided to categorize background music according to the different restaurant types. The right combination of decoration, cuisine, and music will achieve the desired result by creating the right atmosphere and mood for your guests.

Background music for a coffee shop

If you open a coffee shop, you should know that a coffeehouse is a good place for meetings, dates, chilling time after walking around the city, or for a quick stop to grab a coffee to go. A place with the right atmosphere, cute coffee shop name, a small cozy space, a stylish interior, polite and unobtrusive staff won’t be complete without good music. The main thing is that restaurant music should not be annoying: the guest shouldn’t need to think about the music too much or be distracted by it. And silence doesn’t fit either.

Usually, light genres of electronic music (acid jazz, deep house) suit coffee shops best. Despite the fact that these genres were created for dancing, they are unobtrusive. So don’t worry, most likely your visitors won’t start dancing with coffee in their hands (which can be fun, by the way). On the other hand, people won’t fall asleep! You can mix different genres, for example, minimal and jazz house or trip hop and downtempo are a good fit for the evenings.

Many coffee houses and restaurant owners, in general, consider an ambient genre as the best background music. In reality, though, these tracks are usually saturated with smooth harmonic transitions, sounds of nature, and blurry vocals. For some this may be the perfect background but, there again, the purpose of a coffee house is not to put guests to sleep, but to maintain a cheerful mood.

Don’t play recent dance trends, such as a progressive house, electro house, techno, and French house. They are more dynamic, and modern music genres won’t let your guests relax, especially if they have dropped in for only a short while. This is especially true in the evening, when most of your guests have already had a busy day and all they want is to relax a bit and talk with colleagues or friends. Despite all the changes, and rethinking the concept of the coffee house, it is still associated with relaxing, so don’t spoil this correlation.

Choosing the right background music will always help you to create the right atmosphere, while experiments can scare off potential guests and leave only a limited target audience. Of course, if you have any particular concept that is related to the style of a given music genre, then do it! But these are special cases, where everything, starting with the staff uniform and ending with the music, is done according to an existing concept.

Background music for a bar or pub

Bars and pubs are the complete opposite; they are always filled with loud gatherings. The perfect background music for bars is basically any kind of rock: classic rock, rock’n’roll, hard rock, alternative, brit, indie, etc. Those things that are suitable for a coffee shop won’t work here. People come to pubs definitely not to sit quietly; they want to drink a couple of glasses and have a fabulous time. Dance genres like drum’n’bass or 80s disco won’t fit here. To make your guests want to dance, it’s better to go for rockabilly, ska punk, dance punk, etc. They work especially well if you have the space and equipment for live gigs and rock sessions.

Background music for a restaurant

Perhaps the hardest choice of background music comes up when you own a restaurant. The playlist for restaurants is a bit similar to cafes and coffee shops, but with the emphasis on live instruments, instead of electronics. Soft jazz and classical music are perfect choices.

At the same time, at weekends luxury restaurants may provide guests with live classical recitals. As a rule, these will be duets for piano and violin. Winds are a great fit too! Don’t mix jazz and classical together. It is necessary to have a short break between two playlists, or a smooth and quiet transition.

A high-end restaurant is a place where people go to spend money and receive high-level service. No one comes just for a coffee or a 20-minute wait until the rain stops. There is always a special occasion when people visit a luxury restaurant: a date, business meeting, celebration, anniversary, etc. Therefore, the restaurant background music should be appropriate.

Background music for a cafe

The most successful music genres for cafes are lounge, deep house, bossa nova, nu jazz, etc. Very often cafe owners, managers or whoever is responsible for the music background, play the mainstream trends currently in the top charts. This is not actually the best idea. There is nothing wrong with this music but it is too distracting. Even worse, is when the art director or owner relies on his own taste and adds blues, R’n’B, funk and other incompatible styles to a playlist with pop songs. As a result, you’ll get a weird mixture of everything, instead of a nice and appropriate cafe playlist. Make your choice of music for cafe as scrupulously as you choose a cafe POS.

Background music for a fast food restaurant

Finally, here we are, in the one place where all the best pop songs should be. Coming to a fast food place, all that people want is to grab something to eat and leave. There isn’t the time to relax with a cup of coffee while waiting for risotto with oysters.

Music should affect a person’s mood positively, so don’t go for sad, slow songs. The music background for fast food should aim to create an atmosphere of «eat and go». The popular music styles here are: R’n’B, hip-hop, progressive house, electro house, pop, dance, electronic. Basically, any hip-hop and dance song will fit (except dubstep, breakbeat, or trap).

Do restaurants have to pay royalties?

We’ve already talked about all the restaurant licenses that need to be obtained by every restaurant owner. Let’s go a little deeper into the music license. A music license can sometimes cost you more than your subscription to a cloud restaurant POS system or point of sale system for a bar.

The rule is simple and clear: if you use copyright music for commercial purposes, you will have to pay for it. This doesn’t mean that you have to pay each musician individually! There are a number of performers’ rights organizations (PROs) that act on behalf of songwriters and musician-performers in the United States. Basically, this means that you can’t play just any song you want without first purchasing licenses from performers’ rights organizations. The thing is, most restaurant owners don’t even know that music licenses exist and that they need to have one. So if you don’t want to get a fine, you definitely need to be aware of their existence. Here is a list of them:

We can hear you asking: Which one to get? Well, the answer is all of them. The thing is that the song you play may be written by two or three songwriters. One of them may be an ASCAP member and another BMI. You get the point? It’s better to obtain a music license from all three PROs and protect your business from unexpected penalties and unnecessary problems.

Wait a minute, you say, what about a paid subscription on Spotify or Pandora? Yes, you paid for it but you can only use it for private purposes because they don’t have a license for commercial use. Instead of these, better go for licensed outsourcing background music on business streaming services. One of the greatest thing about these is that the service can create a playlist that will affect the buying decisions of your restaurant guests! One way or another, a restaurant music license is worth taking care of.

Music for restaurant staff

With this, it is better to build on what your employees like and what they prefer to listen to as background music while working. The main thing is that the music shouldn’t distract them and that they fulfill their duties. Perhaps your team prefers to work in complete silence, fully getting into the work process. Anyway, for the staff, you don’t need to stick to the royalty rule for commercial use of music: staff areas are not considered public places, so there is no need to be concerned when listening to records, radio, iTunes, Google Play Music, Spotify, or other music streamers online.

Music equipment

Unfortunately, not all restaurant owners pay enough attention to the quality of the sound, or the pictures in cases where there are a couple of TVs in the restaurant. The choice of AV (audiovisual) equipment primarily depends on the size of the dining area in the restaurant, its location, and then on the budget that you are willing to spend on music equipment.

First of all, the size of the dining hall affects the number of loudspeakers and the price of its installation in the walls and ceiling. It won’t work if you just put two loudspeakers on or under the counter, or at different ends of the hall. Let’s see what you get then: people who are sitting next to the sound source simply won’t be able to hear each other, while the guests who chose tables in the center of the hall will barely hear the music. You can turn the volume up to please the people in the center of the hall but then you’ll leave the other guests completely deaf. It doesn’t feel right, does it?

The best way to arrange your acoustics (especially if you have small loudspeakers) is to spread them evenly around the perimeter. And most importantly, don’t forget about the restrooms and reception! It’s kind of weird when you leave your table to go to the WC and find yourself surrounded with silence.

A restaurant location affects the sound inside too. If the room has a lot of windows, you need to direct loudspeakers towards the seating area and use acoustic panels to reduce the echo in the room.

In a restaurant situated in a residential building, you will definitely have to soundproof the room, at least the party walls.

How much does restaurant acoustic equipment cost?

The minimum music equipment set consists of an amplifier-mixer and loudspeakers and cost more than coffee shop POS system, for example. No matter how expensive the acoustics are, if you send a low-quality signal, you will get a horrible sound as a result.

We took into account the more reliable equipment, designed for constant, round-the-clock operation over a long period. As a rule, domestic appliances aren’t designed for such operation. While we all want to save money this is not the case when you should do so. Eventually, you’ll spend more with constantly changing and repairing your equipment. Professional doesn’t mean the most expensive in the whole world but something that is built for reliable and continuous operation.

Power Amplifier


4 In-Wall Loudspeakers

$800 (≈$200 each)

USB External Sound Card


This example is mainly suitable for small cafes. With regard to coffee points, food trucks or any street food venue, regular loudspeakers and devices (smartphone, iPod, iPad, etc.) would be enough. A large restaurant needs to be approached more seriously through designing multi-channel systems and zoning for each room. This also applies to designing the platform for live performances.

Remember the common mistake: when choosing background music for restaurants don’t try to fill the playlist with the trendy, latest songs, especially if they don’t suit your restaurant concept at all. Never chase trends just because everybody else does.

If you are not sure which music is the most suitable for your restaurant, bar or coffee shop, ask for professional help. It is better to choose the style and genres once, which will create the necessary atmosphere instead of scaring customers away. And of course, background music should be played legally.

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