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Meanderer

The Chairman of the Board Trumps the King

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Elvis may be the King, but not, it appears, when it comes to background music in restaurants. While in England and Scotland during the past couple of weeks I was serenaded by Frank Sinatra in a pub in Hawkshead, a small inn near Spean Bridge, and a restaurant in Durness. While it is quite common(too common, in my opinion)to hear Sinatra while dining out in the states, I was a bit surprised by his regular appearances across the pond. Back in the '90s, it seemed as if I heard Billie Holliday in every other restaurant I walked into in the U.S., but she seems to have fallen out of favor.

How do restauranteurs here and abroad choose what music to play in the dining room and is it the same music every day? I realize there are likely to be as many answers to this question as there are restaurants but I am most curious to know whether 1)a guess is made as to what people would like, 2)there are people out there who use market research to advise restaurants on what music customers are likely to enjoy(or, at least, not find offensive), 3)the music is chosen to please the staff who have to listen to it day after day for hours at a time, or 4)it is simply based on the individual tastes of the owner or whoever happens to be in charge at the time?

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There are lots of rules and regs here in the US concerning what music can and cannot be played over a restaurant sound system. At the restaurant where I work, we have certified Pandora accounts at our place, and as I usually control the music from behind the bar.

I've read in a few times that some kids think of jazz as "restaurant music," and I can certainly understand why. We often work through 1920s-1960s jazz and standards -- Ellington, Coltrane, Fitzgerald, and so on -- for most of service. Toward the end of the night, you might hear Tito Puente to brighten things up or, needing the opposite, Massive Attack or alternative klezmer music.

That is to say, choices are made based on what we can legitimately use, what we staff like, and what we think the general vibe of the place is. It's always inoffensive, at least by intention: once, "Chocolate Salty Balls" crept into a Pandora station that noticed Isaac Hayes but not the South Park content. When a smirking customer pointed this out, I quickly queued up "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." I guess people really listen to that background music sometimes....

Interesting piece in the NY Times about this a few years back, prompted, I think, by the backlash/embrace of Mario Batali's decision to play Led Zeppelin at Babbo.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I've been to quite a few restaurants that, as soon as management leaves, the young staff blasts some sort of really unpleasant rock music. And they don't give a rat's ass if you don't like it.

And then later, when I've told management what happens after they leave, they admit that they've been told that before and that it's an ongoing problem, but that they've had a hard time correcting it.

A couple of places where the music is so loud and so "contemporary" as to be unpleasant, I've been told that management does it intentionally so that customers don't settle in comfortably. That way, they can turn the tables faster.


I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I go to Jimmy John's *because* they play the kind of music that I like. It helps that the sandwiches are always very good. Occasionally I'm going somewhere and eating alone. It's nice to have good music playing in those instances that isn't something akin to elevator music. I'll hit the bookstore deli or Wheatsfield in Ames if I want a quiet place I can sit and read a book.

If it's a fine dining establishment, though, I think the music should reflect that. If the kitchen wants to listen to rock, more power to them...just make sure it isn't loud enough to make it to the diners.

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