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UPDATE: Restaurants Have a New Musical Plan to Make You Spend More

There’s a reason stores, bars and restaurants play music in their establishments. Yes, it provides some nice ambiance, but savvy entrepreneurs know that music can influence the behaviour of customers. Done right, music can manipulate us into lingering longer and spending more.

Sixteen Swedish McDonald’s franchises finished up a study that found “brand-fit” playlists–carefully curated playlists that was on point with the McDonald’s vibe–helped boost sales by 9%. Other restaurants like TGI Fridays are adopting a service called “Soundtrack Your Brand,” which is powered by Spotify. Using an algorithm, the service generates bespoke playlists for specific businesses.

In the case of McDonald’s, the new music selection boosted sales of desserts by more than 11% while smoothies and shakes went up 15%.

The report in The Telegraph doesn’t offer samples of these playlists (What song would make you buy a shake or an apple pie?), but it does quote a researcher as saying that the perfect playlist comprises a mixture of well-known songs with less known hits, augmented by “a mixture of what’s popular within the restaurant’s theme.”

This relates back to a study by Oxford University that says playing certain music in curry restaurants can make the food appear to taste hotter. It cautioned again playing fast songs with distorted beats and high-pitched sounds lest some patrons be unable to finish their vindaloo. The wrong (right?) music enhanced spiciness by up to 10%.

UPDATE: This comes from The Guardian:

Spearheading the revolution is Soundtrack Your Brand. “We’ve spent four years developing an advanced method called Soundscan, used in this research and in all our curation efforts,” explains Ola Sars, Soundtrack’s CEO. “Until now, streaming hasn’t crossed over into background music, which has become a fairly broken market.”

“Anyone can put together a playlist that sounds good,” says Magnus Rydén, the company’s head of music. “But when you’re curating for a business, it’s important to really understand them. It’s about expressing that brand through music.” So how do they pick the tunes? “Once we’ve got the parameters right, it comes down to our daily sourcing of new music,” he explains, somewhat mysteriously. “If a brand is positioning itself as, say, modern and technological, those are the parameters we use,” adds Sars. “Then Magnus’s team rolls through hundreds of thousands of tracks that qualify and handpicks them. We scale through data and then add humans for the last bit of fine tuning and complexity.”

So, just what were they pumping into that fast-food joint? “The Soundscan model doesn’t really give us the perfect burger-and-shake tune,” Rydén laughs. However, he later sends me an email detailing the “welcoming, modern, and expressive” parameters common to restaurants “targeting a millennial audience”. Apparently, Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You fits the bill perfectly, while the “low key” sound of New Zealand band Yumi Zouma “is simply too pale”.



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38524 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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