/ Travel & Leisure

Your view: music in restaurants

Food and record

Music in shops is a pet hate for many Which? Convo readers – judging by the vast majority of the 1,500 comments we’ve had on the subject. But what about music in restaurants?

I guess it depends a lot on whether we’re talking about violinists or pounding sound systems. In Starbucks the other day I heard the song ‘When I fall in love’ by The Skatalites for the first time. If you’d asked me then, I’d have said I’m all in favour of music in restaurants. For two reasons; I loved the song and it wasn’t TOO LOUD!

But the previous week, I was eating out with a friend and could hardly hear a word they said because of how loud the music was. What was more bizarre was that the restaurant was nearly empty.

Worse than music in shops?

For some of you, music in restaurants and pubs is even worse than music in shops, as Philip Vaughan explains:

‘In a shop you can quickly get what you need and escape. In a restaurant or pub you are there for pleasure so noise pollution is even more annoying.’

For Jude, it’s the volume that matters:

‘Often it’s too loud and, as someone who is going deaf and suffers from permanent tinnitus, the addition of music makes it more difficult to hear what others are saying. I often politely ask if the music can be turned down. Some places are happy to do so, in others the staff look at me as if I’m asking something totally unreasonable.’

A.J Herridge found music so loud it ruined an otherwise enjoyable evening:

‘My family and I visited Chiquito, a Mexican-style restaurant. The food was good and staff friendly and helpful. However the evening was marred by constant and loud ‘background’ Mexican-style music. We mentioned this to staff but the volume was not reduced. I have no objection to background music in shops and restaurants as long as it stays just that.’

Is music in restaurants just part of the experience?

On the other hand, some readers felt music added to the experience of dining out, as Malcolm R argued:

‘I wonder if people who went to the Savoy for afternoon tea and were serenaded by a “Palm Court” orchestra complained? What about violinists, guitarists and accordionists who wander round restaurants serenading the diners. Sometimes music is all part of the occasion, and perhaps having local music played in a “foreign” restaurant is part of the experience? Perhaps as well as compulsory “scores on the doors” restaurants should also declare “music played here” so you know where to avoid (or frequent).’

Listen to customers, not just the music

Anne pleaded with restaurants to take more notice of their potential customers:

‘Restaurants pack in tables too closely, and the music adds to the volume of conversation. All my friends hate all this, and it’s odd that businesses do not seem to recognise the growing ‘grey’ market. Yes, I’m in my sixties, and find shopping and restaurant visits an ordeal.’

Do you feel that restaurants are getting it right in their choice of music and the volume it’s played at?

Mike Schofield; says:
15 October 2015

It has become a standing joke with my family that I always ask for the “music” to be turned down or off when we eat in a restaurant. I have found that chain restaurants are the worst – they often say that they have to play what they are given and customers expect it.
It may be an age thing – I’m 72 – but have for years walked out of bars and shops where the music has become intrusive; they don’t seem to worry about lost custom or realise that many people my age are fortunate to have more disposable income than we ever did.
I wonder when owners are going to realise that the best music is the hubbub of customers’ voices.

I totally agree with everything that you say. I am a fit 71 year old, and had to walk out of Sainsbury’s the other day as I couldn’t stand the same old Christmas songs blaring from their speakers. For 30 years I have been blasted by Slade for several weeks every year, and many Christmas songs have been around much longer than this. It goes on for at least the whole month of December and by the time Christmas arrives I am sick to the back teeth of it. I had a long shopping list the other day but it just made me so annoyed that Sainsbury’s thought it OK to blast my eardrums in this way that I walked in and immediately walked out. If anyone has any ideas as to where I could shop without this assault for the next 3 weeks, please post it here. I too have a great deal of spending power.

Richard Craven says:
21 November 2016

I completely agree with you about the awfulness of Christmas songs. This year in Bristol’s city centre, it has started at the beginning of November! Helpful suggestion: Waterstones is an oasis of silence.

Richard says:
8 October 2018

I’m 16 years younger than you, and feel exactly the same. Helpful suggestion: M&S have ditched the instore music.

Aldi don’t play music at all but it is nearly always jam packed in their , Lidl the same , Farm Foods is pretty good , Iceland also & Heron Foods . You may not be able to get the variety in those shops that you can in the major supermarkets but atleast you can shop in peace & it’ll tide you over until January . I’m the same I hate The music in shops even when it’s not Christmas but it just gets 10 times worse in November & December .

S Jones says:
19 October 2015

I don’t know why any retails organisations persist with the practice.

Their thinking is about 30 years out of date: all the evidence now shows that far from creating an ‘ambient’ atmosphere, it actually increases stress and lowers concentration levels, as well as the obvius sucdhas having to make yourself heard above music.

alta says:
27 October 2015

The question asked implies that ‘music’ is inevitable, and that our only option is type & volume. The answer is NO – they are not ‘getting it right’ because the civilized, adult option is for no enforced piped ‘music’ at all. Anyone who needs it, is perfectly capable of selecting their own choice & hearing it via headphones.

Susan says:
14 November 2015

Music in restaurants should be quiet and pleasant background music. You should be able to hear what people are saying to you across the table without being distracted by loud music. We had to ask for the music to be turned down when we were eating out in Winchester recently. If does put you off going there again.


My own preference is for no music at all while I am eating or having a drink, but somone said to me once that it might be helpful if we could persuade establishments that if the music can still be heard when people are talking , then it’s too loud.

Nevermind , once all these restaurants & supermarkets have gone out of business because people are sick of having their experiences ruined by loud & intrusive music they’ll be scratching their heads & wandering why this has happened & they’ll be blaming all manner of things but won’t catch onto the real reason people have stopped going to their shop / restaurant & it will 100% serve them right . In today’s age of technology it shouldn’t be hard for those who want it to bring their phone / mp3 player & plug their headphones in & blast themselves with music until their hearts content leaving the rest of us to shop in peace.

I totally agree with all the above comments. We all hate it so why aren’t we doing more to stop it?!
Perhaps it’s time for us all to stop being so reserved and ‘British’ and speak out. I often say politely and with a smile to restaurant or shop staff that I have a hearing problem and would they mind turning the music down a bit and usually they willingly oblige. I don’t actually have impaired hearing but DO mind the infernal background interference to what should be a pleasant dining or shopping experience.
But Pipedown and other organisations have been going for years and yet nothing seems to change, in fact to my mind it seems to be getting worse!

It certainly is getting worse, Lindsay, as more and more restaurants and other premises get signed up by the firms that market the sound services.

I noticed a chain restaurant [whose name escapes me right now] that has put loudspeakers on the outside of the premises to feed the music to diners at the outside tables. I was walking past it at around nine thirty one morning recently and noise was blaring out from the loudspeakers even though the place wasn’t actually open and there were obviously no customers within range. Just cleaning and preparation were going on and I don’t have a problem with the staff having music while they work but I don’t see why passing pedestrians have to endure it. My experience was only momentary of course whereas the diners will have it throughout their meal. If it was our choice to eat at that establishment we would prefer an outside table because the sound would be more dispersed, but the chances are we would be surrounded by smokers. Where can we go to avoid smoke and music?

Nigel Rodgers says:
23 November 2015

In some areas the problem of unwanted music has been getting worse, agreed. In others, it is getting better. Thanks in part to pressure from Pipedowners, Waterstones is gradually phasing canned music out of its branches. The Nationwide Building Society is likewise getting rid of the piped music it had in some branches. People seldom notice – or comment on – the absence of music. But Pipedowners are encouraging places free of piped (canned) music to sport blue-and-white stickers in their windows to show their muzac-free status. Coupled with the website Quiet Corners, this can help diners to locate quiet restaurants etc.

If walk into a restaurant and the music’s too loud, BEFORE I even sit down, I’m outta there…

[Sorry, your comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, mods.]

Richard Craven says:
27 May 2017

Please tell them why you’re leaving. If enough people did this, it might eventually change their behaviour.

Today we went to a local pub/restaurant for lunch. The second we entered there was teenage type pop far too loud. We asked for it to be turned off. They said they couldn’t. This is a free house, they own the place & are not bound by any HO policy. I pointed out that it was a hideous noise, I have encountered this too many time to try to pussy foot around. Why should I? I am paying, it is not my taste or wish. They have no right to assault my senses with their taste in trash noise. I was told it was vintage music & people were there to enjoy it. It was modern trash not easy listening. NO the staff want it. All it does is increase stress levels & raise everyone’s voices to try to be heard above it. So we walked out. Don’t go the St Mary’s Gate in Arundel. Go to the Spur, Slindon, beautiful quiet ambiance with just the sound of lowered conversation, the clink of glasses & cutlery. It was lovely.

Kathryn Fuller says:
16 December 2015

When you go to a restaurant you are offered a choice what to eat. In a cafe, you can choose what to drink. But you don’t get a choice about listening to the ‘music’ the management have chosen. Would anyone go to a restaurant where they were forced to eat hamburgers, or to a cafe where customers had to drink lattes?

I I find piped-in pop music loathsome, but I don’t want to hear Mozart when I go out to eat, either. I just want to hear the conversation of my companions, but unfortunately most restaurants and cafes make that a challenge…

Karen Freir says:
6 February 2016

It is getting harder and harder to do anything, watch television, shop, eat drink without tuneless noise filling every space. I am have to watch some programmes with the sound turned off and i will leave shops and restaurants if they have intrusive music playing. When custom is so hard fought for these days, why drive customers away, because that is what is happening.

My husband and I have to comment on how very loud the music is playing, or the poor choice of music as well as loudness of the music every time we go out for a planned enjoyable meal together, where we love to engage in our own personal conversations. This makes our meal unpleasant and the more it seems to be happening the more we want to stay home.

Eladram says:
3 June 2016

Totally agree about muzak. It is deeply offensive to be forced to put up with someone else’s choice of background noise, and even if the muzak were to my taste (very rare) I would object to people who like raucous pop being forced to hear what I like. I have walked out of shops and restaurants because of the type and volume of muzak.

Irene Kyffin says:
4 June 2016

Agree with many comments on music in shops/restaurants/pubs. Drives me crazy, especially when it becomes a struggle to hear what’s being said to me. I get out of shops as quickly as I can. Especially maddening is when I ask in a restaurant for the music to be lowered. This is received with a very polite yes of course or some such. Within 15 minutes it’s been put up again. Infuriating.

John W says:
5 June 2016

Good to know so many people feel the same as I do! Especially as we get older, hearing conversation with friends in a pub, bar or restaurant is almost impossible with loud piped music – and very often its appalling modern over processed pop music with screaming hysterical women (NOT singing) only making it worse! If its too loud, I will go to the bar and ask them to turn it down, and usually they will do so – after pointing out “how do you expect us hear conversation with friends?” If they refuse, I will leave. The main problem is that when piped music is too loud, then everyone has to shout to be heard, only making it worse! It then becomes a vicious circle. I have no objection to LIVE music – if good performers, though again I would probably not be in the bar if there was. In Belgium, many good bars serving the great Belgian beers have classical music playing quietly in the background, and that’s VERY relaxing and adds a peaceful happy calm.

‘Of all modern phenomena, the most monstrous and ominous, the most manifestly rotting with disease, the most grimly prophetic of destruction, the most clearly and unmistakably inspired by evil spirits, the most instantly and awfully overshadowed by the wrath of heaven, the most vivid with devilry and despair, is the practice of having to listen to loud music while eating a meal in a restaurant.’ G. K. Chesterton . 1874-1936

He has said it all, I think.

Well, he was wrong about it being a modern phenomenon for a start. The Tudors had musicians during feasts, music was played in restaurants in the C19 (I remember it well), I beielve military bands have played at formal dinners organised by our royalty. If its good enough for them…………? And anyway, GKC also said “The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”

You beat me to it 🙂

Music with food is an ancient tradition – there’s some evidence that the Egyptians used to have harps playing during meals c. 2000BC.

We had a harpist at my daughters wedding breakfast (lunch) playing during the meal. A very mixed gathering who all enjoyed it. Thank you, Egyptians.

Still bad manners, Malcolm, even though the other guests said they liked it.

I don’t follow your bad manners comment John; not like you. The plan for the day is the host’s responsibility, whether it is food, entertainment, just like any other party. Perhaps if I had arranged for heavy metal or garage music (as you can see I’m not up with modern tastes and I don’t really know what these are except they seem tuneless and loud) I might have accepted some responsibility for displeasing some guests. However I think it was good manners to provide quiet, mild, live background music that did not interfere with conversation but was appreciated by all present; requested, incidentally by the bride and groom.

I wonder whether people regard live music at funerals as “bad manners”. Church weddings? Buckingham Palace garden parties? ……..

Sorry Malcom – an irony failure. When I first read your comment [in the context of the complaints about unwanted music] it seemed as if someone took it upon themselves to play the harp throughout the wedding breakfast, and that was the ‘bad manners’. I then realised you had engaged a harpist to enhance the occasion but I couldn’t resist making fun of your comment. It didn’t work and I apologise.

When you get a chance, see if you can catch a recording of Reinhold Glière’s harp concerto; I think you’ll enjoy it.

No apology needed John! Conversations lead to such misunderstandings when, of necessity, most contributions are kept brief and sometimes the intent is not transmitted. Had it been heavy metal supplied by the management we would have tried the ‘allo ‘allo remedy of putting cheese in our ears. Readily available from the deli counters as well.

Back to piped music. I wonder what happens in the rest of Europe and what other countries populations’ opinions are? Is it an issue that transcends nationality? The French and Italians can be a bit volatile so have they banned it, or do their citizens vote with their feet and avoid places that use it?

We have eaten in countless establishments across Europe but have never really felt that any music was a nuisance. I think most places under the direct management of the proprietor seem to judge the right ambience for their customer mix, whether it’s mainly locals, mainly tourists/ visitors, or a selection of both, and adjust the offering [and volume] to suit. They also seem to be better judges of where to ‘seat’ their customers in areas that will not annoy them or the regular patrons.

In general I think my wife and I are indifferent to the type of music in a restaurant so long as the volume is acceptable as in most cases the musical taste aligns with the character of the establishment and there are some which we would instinctively avoid. A live musical performance can also enhance the occasion but it can also be OTT and you just have to put it down to experience.

My choice is always for no music when I am eating out, but it’s getting harder and harder to find anywhere without it. In the summer I like to sit outside but it gets a bit foggy with the smokers.

I have not travelled all that much, but my two favourite cafes in London are tiny places run by Italians.

No idea if it’s a cultural thing in Italy or just coincidence; I have also been in Italian restaurants where they have a radio on by the counter, but very very softly.

I agree with all the comments about intrusive music particularly in restaurants. I have v good hearing
at 75 but my husband, 68, has 75 per cent hearing loss in one ear and 55 in the other and wears two
privately bought aids. I, too, would prefer no music in restaurants, simply because the purpose of going out to eat, usually with friends or relatives with whom we only have occasional meetings, it’s nice to
be able to converse. This, sadly, is not the case when inappropriate and too loud music is piped.

On another tag, I went to the GPs surgery the other day and was bombarded, yes, that’s the right word,
with some jangly and loud music, supposedly, as I learned after emailing about it, to reduce the patients
being overheard. In my opinion the reception staff would have been hard pressed to hear what their
clients were saying, never mind the people waiting. Confidentiality was also given as an ‘excuse’ for
the loud music; their chosen way of telling you that your appointment is night, are two large TV screens
on which your full name and marital status is displayed … confidentiality, my hat!

It’s really getting bad – it’s one thing having music in restaurants in the evening, but now you can’t even get a cup of tea or coffee at a cafe in the morning in peace – nearly every cafe plays music. I am a massive fan of music – in the right place!

For me it’s not about the volume – I simply do not want to hear music at all in a cafe during the day. In a restaurant, if it’s in the evening, not loud and carefully selected I quite like music some of the time e.g. some relaxing Indian music in an Indian restaurant, but during the day, especially the morning most people either go to a cafe to relax and chat with friends, some catch up with e-mails, or are doing some work and really don’t want to have music forced on them.

I totally agree with someone who posted previously – why is this imposed on us? We choose if and what we want to drink and eat, but music is served up whether you want it or not. If I wanted to listen to music in a cafe I would bring my own choice of music and use headphones.

I actually find unwanted music worse than unwanted smoke from cigarettes, and so most of the time at cafes if it is not too cold I have to sit outside. Today was too cold to sit outside, so I put earplugs in – it didn’t help much – the whining, droning music still got through!

Stephen says:
30 July 2018

I too hate music in restaurants as I have tinnitus, and if music is playing as well, it’s agony trying to hear what people are saying. It’s discrimination against people with hearing loss.

A good compromise would be to try to encourage restaurants not to play music on say Monday evenings, when they are less busy, and to announce this — I bet lots of people would make a point of going on those evenings ! It could start a trend, like phasing out plastic straws.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I do not go into shops that have loud music, or any music, playing in the background. At least I am saving money these days.

Unfortunately also in Italy piped end unwanted music is spreading everywhere. I remember a MacDonald that was music free two years ago and now has radio Macdonald, many restaurants, all of the bars in the morning, there is music under the speaker in news reportage, music all the time in soap series, rock music riff has been placed under the translated version also of “dealer wheelers” that was my favorite program.
there is music in the shops and even in the food markets. If you go in the night in some famous street there are bars one after one with their own music creating a sound of noise and people that seem happy in this inferno.
I think Milano has become a real hell of a place. The reason is that there are people like this that think we all want to become stupid hearing their music.
I loved music, I had my band when I was young, I have more than 500 records, but now I simply hate music and I can’t stand it.

We were in a restaurant, and we had already bought our food downstairs and when we went upstairs to sit down there was a radio playing. Its DJ chatting away was so annoying, making it hard to hold a conversation as I have moderate hearing loss. There were only two other people there and we asked if they minded if we turned it off, and they said it was ok they weren’t listening to it, and they were sitting at the far end of the room away from the source of the annoying sound. Still it made me feel guilty and would put me off ever going back to that restaurant, however nice the food. I felt that they should have made it clear when we bought our food that we would have to endure the noise while sitting and eating, but still it left me feeling bad that I had to ask for it to be turned off, and put me off the place permanently.