The Playlist Dilemma

Lately, I have almost become more obsessed with creating the ultimate playlist for our restaurant, than I have with cocktail recipes.

Some points:

  1. Almost all restaurants (and bars) have some sort of background music.
  2. The music has two audiences, primarily those who dine in the restaurant, but also those who work in the restaurant.

To the first point, the selection of music is important for the mood and feel of the restaurant. The management typically makes the call on what sort of music they want to hear in their restaurant.

A lot of restaurants these days are choosing to leave this choice to services like Muzak or Pandora.

As a music nerd, I prefer, and hope, that someone in the restaurant has enough vested interest that they have gone to the trouble to choose the music. One of my pet peeves is when you hear an awesome song in a restaurant, ask a server what it is, and they say, “I dunno, it’s the Morrisey Pandora Station.”

Or even worse, when you hear an awful song you never wanted to hear again in your life, and they say, “Eh, it’s the Flock of Seagulls Pandora Station, sorry about that.”

The question is, “How do you please the management, the staff, and the customers?”

5 thoughts on “The Playlist Dilemma

  1. I’m always surprised when it appears that music falls low on the priority list for a restaurant. Don’t they understand the roll of music is to the human experience and how it has accompanied us for thousands and thousands of years.
    To have it be an afterthought tells me a lot about the management and how little they care about the dining experience as a whole.

  2. I loooove the music at HD. It’s not just some random assortment; it feels like it belongs to the people working there and they’ve chosen to share it for a reason while we spend this time hanging out together.

  3. When the bar that I work at opened in 2007, we bought a handful of iPod Shuffles and distributed them to our friends whose musical taste we trusted. They were to fill the iPods with the music they’d like to hear in our place and return them. It worked great…for six months. Then everyone who works there was so freaking sick of all those songs that some of us still cringe when we hear them. We gave them back and asked for new playlists and it happened again–we all got sick of hearing it. Playlists have the inherent liability of being limited. Customers probably won’t notice, but staff will go nuts. I’ve no doubt you can create the perfect playlist for a night, but it doesn’t work for the long term unless you somehow create a playlist so large it hardly ever repeats.

    We now use Pandora. It’s certainly not perfect, but for us it’s better than the curated list. And, it turns out, there is a certain amount of art in creating Pandora Stations. You can add variety to a station by putting in additional seed artists and songs. Picking the right combo can be difficult, but it sometimes yields a pretty great station.

  4. First, great job on the blog! I truly enjoy reading it.
    As someone who is also a music fan, the question of coming up with background music for social environments is very dear to my heart. The great difficulty to me is navigating the line between the familiar and the unexpected. On one hand, I find that you often get a reaction out of people when you play something that is timeless, classic, and instantly recognizable. I don’t mean Top 40 stuff. I mean something like a single by Dylan, The Clash, Marvin Gaye, etc. or even memorable one hit wonders. On the other hand, to the more musically sophisticated, the whole “classic hits” thing may seem overplayed and predictable. So the alternate strategy becomes playing something interesting but obscure or little known tracks by famous artists. I am thinking, for example, deep funk bands from the 60s, obscure surf rock, or an album track by Bowie. The problem then becomes alienating an audience that is not particularly music-knowledgeable. You could also take another approach entirely and focus on a single genre that is no longer mainstream – jazz, blues, old country, etc. which is, in my opinion, even riskier.
    It is definitely a tricky issue, but one worth thinking about. I do have to say that I really enjoy when I go to a bar/restaurant that has good background music.

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