Music can help make the meal, University of Guelph research suggest

Posted on Thursday, September 6th, 2012

September 4th, 2012 - To university students, a restaurant’s musical taste is important as its décor, says a University of Guelph researcher. Kevin Chang, a master’s student and researcher in U of G’s Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies, says music can subconsciously affect diners’ experiences, in addition to food and service quality. In his research, he found the music must not only be good – however diners define it – but it must be appropriate for the establishment. “Heavy metal coupled with fine-dining décor, or gentle classical music piping into a rough and tumble pub can harm sales at the establishment. Customers might not come back,” he says. “Playing music that doesn’t fit in with the interior design of the restaurant can be like trying to colour the Canadian flag without using the color red.” To whet his appetite for this research, Chang visited a chicken wing restaurant in New York where it was common to have lineups of people stretching outside the restaurant waiting to be seated. He found music had a lot to do with it. The restaurant offered a unique musical experience in comparison to other chicken wing restaurants, by playing funk and rhythm and blues music. The décor helped too -- pictures of jazz artists and framed vinyl records hung off the walls that create a unique and comfortable atmosphere. To see if other restaurant goers felt the same way, Chang distributed a 40-question survey to approximately 500 university students to keep participant demographic consistent. The survey’s purpose was to gauge participants’ emotions and enjoyment levels when they’re given different images of restaurant interiors paired with different audio playlists. Some of the audio playlists contained music, while others played ambient noise – people loudly talking in the background — that accompanied restaurant interior images with assorted décor such as upscale upholstery, compared to brick walls and wooden chairs. Chang’s found customer enjoyment levels are significantly higher when music is paired properly to the visual décor. Among the survey participants, most say they will return to the restaurant and recommend it to friends if the music and decor work together to create a memorable dining experience. But if the music isn’t suitable with the décor, most survey participants say would likely not return or recommend the restaurant to their friends. Even restaurants without upscale décor will score high with student customers if the music suits the surroundings. “We are only at the tip of the iceberg with this research, but it has already been an interesting journey,” says Chang. “And it’s worth looking into how we can use different factors in the restaurant environment such as music to provide a better dining experience for the customers.” Collaborators include Profs. Scott Colwell, Karen Finlay, Vinay Kanetkar, Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies and Prof. Nathan Perkins School of Environmental Design and Rural Development. This article was written by a participant in the Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge (SPARK) program at the University of Guelph.

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