From hallways and elevators in hotels, to courtyard patios and cocktail bars, music is one of the most integral aspects of a guest’s experience with the service and hospitality industry. While some patrons will actively listen to the music selected for them, the majority will do so subconsciously, but will be affected just the same. Whether they know it or not, the music you choose to play for your patrons will have a direct impact on how they reflect on their time in your space. Assuming the product you are delivering — whether it be a delicious martini, a lovely bottle of wine, or a savory whole fish — is delightful, it will most likely be the guest’s own company and your service that they recall. From lighting to music, though, every decision made relating to atmosphere is a part of your service. Whether it’s Tito Puente’s Afro-Cuban percussion beats alongside a morning Cafecito or D’Angelo’s rhythms on a rooftop bar, few things are sexier than an establishment that absolutely nails the atmosphere it wishes to provide.
Atmosphere can be a tricky thing. At any given time, half of the people in your establishment may have grown up dancing to Frank Sinatra and the other half may have just purchased the new Frank Ocean. Making everyone feel comfortable and at ease is super important, and may require some outside-the-box thinking on occasion. A misplaced soundtrack to an otherwise good experience can be as jarring as turning the lights up at the end of the night when there are still patrons in your bar (never a recommended move). On the other side of that coin, if five bars in your direct area all make a perfect Manhattan, chances are you’re going to choose the bar based more on service and atmosphere. If a reputable establishment handles its music curation as a part of its mise en place, it’s going to be a place people want to frequent.
Even though it does help, having a tight grasp on a plethora of music genres is by no means a requirement when it comes to providing good atmosphere. Thankfully, guests don’t generally walk into an establishment that isn’t a music venue with a high expectation for music. So, with the bar already being set lower than it will be for how friendly you are with guests and how your drinks taste, here are five steps you can take to ensure you more than deliver in the music department:
Play full-length albums, from front to back, the way the artist initially intended them to be played. Just like you wouldn’t dare give your guests a cheese plate without nuts or a Sazerac without the wonderful expressions of lemon oil and anise in the glass— don’t only give them one small piece of an artist’s composition. Although we’ll focus on conscientiously building playlists a few steps down, consider the fact that if an album only contains a small handful of tracks that you consider to be listenable, there’s a good chance you shouldn’t be listening to anything on it. However, there are at times one or two tracks that just don’t fit a bar or restaurant’s environment and are better omitted from an otherwise fitting LP. (That pesky track three, “The Pan Piper,” on Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain is enough to drive everyone nuts on what can otherwise be a fantastic album for dinner service.)
Play to your crowd a little bit. While it’s true you never quite know what your crowd is going to be like, start off with some safe albums that are universally respected by everyone. If you work in a fancy dinner establishment, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out may be as great of a soundtrack to an early bird’s dining experience as it is to a Woody Allen restaurant scene. Take note that your album transitions should be relatively seamless. For example, if your dinner crowd is clearing out of the restaurant and the bar is beginning to fill up with younger cocktail drinkers, don’t go from an evening of jazz to, say, Raekwon in one fell swoop. Remember that although your guests are not requiring you to be a professional DJ, you will be expected to control the subtle ebb and flow of the atmosphere. Most importantly, don’t play music just because you’re in the mood to listen to it. Take a good look at your crowd, consider what may be a good collective soundtrack to its evening, and play albums accordingly. There’s plenty of time to listen to ol’ Neurosis when the doors are locked and you’re cleaning up.