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Science

Loud music in restaurants makes you want a burger, not salad, study finds

‘These findings allow restaurant managers to strategically manipulate music volume to influence sales’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 2:47pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 11:25pm

Noisy restaurants are a source of perennial complaints, but it’s not just diners’ ears that are affected – it’s their waistlines, too.

A new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences has found that if ambient music played in a restaurant is louder, the customers are more susceptible to choose unhealthful foods.

Dipayan Biswas, a marketing professor at the University of South Florida, conducted the study at a cafe in Stockholm, where various genres of music were played on a loop at 55 decibels and 70 decibels at different times, for several days. When the music was louder, researchers found 20 per cent more customers ordered something that was not good for them, compared to those who dined during the lower-volume times.

[Music] creates a vibe. Your body starts tingling. The more essential you make the experience, the more your brain just starts going crazy. You want to buy things, you want to eat
Alex McCoy, chef at Lucky Buns restaurant

Softer music is calming, and louder music gets us amped up. “Volume is proven to directly impact heart rate and arousal,” according to the study. And it impacts our decision-making, as well: In the soothing quiet of some gentle jazz, we have better self-control, and we make better decisions about which foods would be better for us. But in the excitement of some loud rock music, we want meat and cheese on a bun and some French fries on the side. Oh, and a beer … or three.

Though the study is new, it reinforces conventional wisdom that restaurant owners have known for quite some time: Creating the right atmosphere is essential.

Music “creates a vibe. Your body starts tingling,” said Alex McCoy, the chef/owner of Lucky Buns, a burger restaurant in Washington. “The more essential you make the experience, the more your brain just starts going crazy. You want to buy things, you want to eat, you want to meet people.”

McCoy says he has never compared his sales during periods of different volumes of music.

But Biswas’s paper shows that noise can sway diners to order certain types of foods, potentially increasing the value of their check. “Restaurants and supermarkets can use ambient music strategically to influence consumer buying behaviour,” said Biswas in Science Daily. According to the study, “These findings allow restaurant managers to strategically manipulate music volume to influence sales.”