/ 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.

Kath says:
3 December 2015

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.

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.


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.