/ 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?


Not another music convo, sigh !!!

Yes – We have walked out of the shops in disgust, only to be confronted with something more than background music in restaurants and pubs.

For years, I’ve been attending an annual Lions fundraising event with a retired colleague. Beforehand, we usually have a simple meal in a Marstons pub nearby. This year, for the first time, we had to put up with music. We have decided to go elsewhere next year.

Dave says:
31 May 2015

Perhaps Which? is beginning to realise that this is a topic that affects a good number of its members, alfa!

Chris says:
12 August 2015

See if you can find a Wetherspoons. Their policy is no music.

romeoman says:
21 August 2015

I hardly ever go to a shop if I can get what I need online, because the piped music is so irritatating. it definitely reduces the chances of me buying something. If I’m shopping with a friend I wait outside until they are ready to leave. Even some builders merchants have awful music playing.

If I’m invited out for a meal and asked where I’d prefer to eat my answer will be ‘somewhere quiet, don’t mind what food they serve’

Similarly in a plane when you are waiting to take off and after landing they play music, why?
People who like music will prefer to listen to their own choice via headphones, so nobody actually wants it.

Likewise in the Gym, I had to stop going partly because the music was so unwelcome and intrusive. We had yoga classes next door to a room where an aerobics class was held using loud dance music and the instructor shouting through a microphone – just awful.

Thanks for the chance for a good moan!

I’m not too bothered about quiet ambient music in restaurants. It can give some privacy for what would otherwise be very audible conversations. However, I have a big problem with music in pubs and bars. Often the noise levels are high enough already from people talking to each other, and music only means people have to talk even more loudly. In many cases, it means shouting as loud as you can in order to have a conversation. This kind of atmosphere is not relaxing and should be reserved for live performances and nightclubs only.

Pleogue says:
30 May 2015

some places just seem to increase the volume of the noise at a preset point of the evening…no matter how busy the place is and how loud it already is through conversation

George Winter says:
31 May 2015

It is not a case of restaurants getting it wrong in their choice of music; it’s a case of them getting it wrong in choosing to play music in the first place.

If I go to a restaurant with others it’s to eat food and enjoy a conversation, not to strive to be heard across a musical din that some dope of a restaurant manager has seen fit to inflict on his/her customers, in the mistaken assumption that this will somehow lend ‘atmosphere’. It doesn’t; it detracts from it.

If people are so keen to listen to music in a restaurant, stick headphones in your ears and let the rest of us eat in peace.

David Andrew says:
1 June 2015

Well said George, I hope Pub and Restaurant owners are listening.

Sally says:
31 May 2015

I hate loud background music. However, I find it much harder to complain about loud music in restaurants than I do about loud music in shops. Somewhere at the back of my mind is a vision of someone spitting into my food before serving it up. Am I being paranoid?!

lizbie says:
31 May 2015

Loud music has no place in restaurants. In France, one can eat in peace in most country places, savouring the food and conversation. Why not here?

Pubs are the worst, and I despair of ever being able to go to a pub which is quiet, has no blaring TV, has a nice wood burner and allows my dog in. Where I live, there are 5 pubs – all exactly the same, all blaring out loud pop / ‘boasting’ SkySports / all with a fake fire / all welcoming feral brats running about & screaming, but no dogs.

One of my local pubs might suit you perfectly, lizbie. If I was not allergic to the landlord’s labradoodle, it would suit me too.

Loud music in restaurants discriminates against people with hearing impairments. They are unable to have a conversation with their friends. Many restaurants play music at the same volume throughout – why can’t they provide a “quiet area” for those who don’t want it?

Dorothy, you have made an excellent point. You should complain that the music unlawfully discriminates against you in breach of the Equality Act 2010. Section 6(1)(b) says that a person has a disability if “the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on P’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities“. A hearing impairment fulfils this definition. At the same time, you would be helping the rest of us who don’t suffer from a hearing impairment but who nevertheless want to enjoy a peaceful conversation.

David Andrew says:
31 May 2015

Well said Dorothy, Many Pubs have more than one bar and could have one of them Muzac free, it seems that most Publicans believe that everyone wants a noisy atmosphere, Pubs are closing at an alarming rate and Music is not reversing this, maybe the noisy atmosphere is harming the Pub trade.

I don’t suffer from a hearing impairment either, NFH, but I often meet up with friends who do and it makes me angry that they have to endure this. Apparently it is worst for those who wear hearing aids because, if they turn them up in order to hear conversation at the table, the volume of the background music is increased as well.

Sharon says:
31 May 2015

Muzak in public places is a modern scourge, but worst of all is muzak in restaurants, pubs and cafes. When you go for a meal, you’re there for an hour or so to enjoy the food and chat to your companions. Why do people think that their choice of music is so wonderful that everyone wants to listen to it? It does not add ‘atmosphere’. It adds aggravation. I always ask for it to be turned down, and don’t return to that place. I’m running out of places to go!

David Andrew says:
31 May 2015

Well said Sharon, at my local Pub the young staff put the Pop channel on to entertain themselves, when I ask for it to be turned down they do turn it down, but I sometimes get the feeling that I am being annoying to them. Muzac may be part of the reason that Pubs are emptying as many of us like to go to the Pub for a conversation as well as a drink and loud music makes talking difficult.

Dave says:
31 May 2015

One pub chain that is bucking the trend and actually expanding is Wetherspoons which has a no-muzak policy. When are the others going to realise that it could be the muzak driving out their customers?

David Andrew says:
1 June 2015

That’s the way I see it Dave.

David Andrew says:
31 May 2015

I find most music in Pubs, Restaurants, Shops, filling stations, loud and high pitched with no rhythm or melody and very annoying. Not everyone likes the same music, I play music of my choosing at home and in the Car and I go to Rock Concerts, however I really do object to getting Music forced on me.

I simply cannot understand why anyone thinks they have the right to play me music of their choice, at a volume of their choice, in an establishment where I am going to meet friends and have a pleasant evening over a nice meal. I have a hearing impairment and, around a table with various discussions taking place, there is sufficient challenge without me somehow or other having to ‘block’ the completely un-necessary music.
I vote with my feet and do not frequent such establishments – so, even if they conduct a ‘customer satisfaction survey’, my view is never taken into consideration.

As with shops, my main concern is for those customers with hearing impairment and staff who have to put up with music all day, every day.

When booking a table in a restaurant by phone, it would be easy to ask if there is music and then decide whether or not to make a booking.

Grace says:
1 June 2015

I completely agree with those who find music in restaurants annoying. One of the pleasures in life used to be having a relaxing meal and conversation with friends or family. Now I despair of finding anywhere that doesn’t play background music. In my experience, most of the staff in restaurants say that they will turn down the music but (maybe it’s just me) I don’t really find much difference, or it get’s quieter for a bit then increases again. Dave mentions that Wetherspoons are free of muzak – just be careful you don’t get caught out like me and visit a Lloyd’s Bar instead. These do play background music – at very loud volume. One establishment I did enjoy visiting recently was Prezzo, Italian restaurant in St. Vincent’s Street, Glasgow. When I asked for the music to be turned down due to my hearing impairment, the staff could not have been more helpful and considerate. Maybe we need to make more of the fact that restaurants have to taken into the account the needs of disabled customers. After all, they would not get away with having no accessible toilet facilities in these days!

I wrote a review in TripAdvisor recently and mentioned that the music in the restaurant was too loud and marred the experience (but everything else was fine). The reply from the restaurant owner was that she was sorry and that if I went back and asked for the music to be turned down it would be done. OK, but I don’t want to have to ask for the music to be turned down, I want it not to be too loud in the first place.

I think I may systematically post a standard review for every average restaurant I visit from now on where the music is too loud, ie where I strain to hear what my table companions are saying: “The food, wine, and service were good and the place is worth a visit but only if you can bear the loud music. Be aware you may not be able to have a conversation because of it.” Or something like that. If many of us do that, maybe some restaurants will pay attention?

Although music in restaurants and pubs doesn’t affect me as much as music in shops – I can’t afford to go out, anyway – the few times I’ve had to eat in a cafe/restaurant the background music was anything but background… I remember a breakfast at a conference where I shared a table with a guy whose hearing was impaired; we had serious trouble having a conservation – and I thought that “networking” during meal breaks at conferences was part of the reason we went there! The entire hall where posters etc were was swamped with loud music, too. I did complain, but to no effect. Ah well, I was only a funny little woman from the back of Scotland who obviously didn’t know yet how the big guys do it in Birmingham…

To add to my former post – it’s a different matter altogether if I go to a pub with live music. Then, I go there to listen to music, which I have chosen and enjoy.

The Good Beer Guide app (about £5) shows quiet pubs.

So-called ‘fine dining’ is sometimes worse for music. Some hotels have really good restaurants with excellent cuisine and service but the effect is ruined by a nauseating pseudo-romantic tape-loop that hasn’t been changed in a generation.

For some of those who dislike music in restaurants there is another option. Go to one of those establishments where the the kitchen is open to the dining area and there is a constant banging and clattering of pans accompanied by multi-lingual shouting. When your meal comes after all that mucking about it’s on a bit of driftwood with the chips in a bucket. But there you go.

Some pubs have got the wrong idea altogether. We can put up with a bit of background music in the easy-going casual environment of pubs, many of which are half-empty at lunchtime, but then they decide to put the television on as well and the only person watching it is also making a racket with the amusement machines. At least Wetherspoons have silent fruit machines, no music, and no TV’s [although some of them have silent screens showing videos and promo tapes]. Luckily, living in the country, we have a fabulous choice of old village inns with nothing to disturb our enjoyment but the crackling log fire and the lively conversation of the regulars at the bar [I think the current term is ‘banter’].

Thank goodness Which? hosts a polite and decent Conversation and not Rants and Banter.

Just wondering . . . Was it better in pubs when they had juke boxes and your ears were at the mercy of whichever brand of yob had loaded it with their choice of ghastly noise? I think it was because there were sometimes long periods without any music playing at all. And at least they were recordings by the original artistes, not the monotonous cover versions reeled out these days. Plus if any miscreant played something really awful the chances were that he would be publicy humiliated and have to get a round in.

Piped music annoys me more than a juke box. At least I know that someone wants music played on a juke box.

and imposes it on everyone else?

Indeed, but it’s slightly better than no-one wanting it.

We have the wireless sound system to thank for imposing one person’s music choice on everybody else. Juke boxes originally had directional inbuilt speakers so in most pubs you could sit at the other end or in a different bar and the volume would be much lower. A shop, pub or restaurant is not complete nowadays unless there is a loudspeaker covering every ten square metres.

I agree with Wavechange on a preference for the juke box. Not only was there evidence that at least one person wanted the track being played but they were prepared to make a personal financial commitment which avoided the cost going on the price of a pint!

You pretty well covered it except for the fact that Juke boxes also had a far higher fidelity known these days as ‘bit-rate’ –what we’re now being subjected to is extreme data compression which creates artificial, unnatural swirling metallic noises that sound like someone’s added chime bars to everything.

“old village inns with nothing to disturb our enjoyment but the crackling log fire and the lively conversation”. I’m sure there will be some people who will object to this as well John ! :-). Perhaps we should ban all talking in restaurants to preserve a totally quiet environment. Any conversation necessary could be carried on by phubbing texts. Is their any way of suppressing those annoying beeps? 🙁 Anyway, it is bad manners to talk while you are eating – so I was taught.

David King says:
2 June 2015

Too many places now have loud music. Maybe the staff enjoy it because they are bored, but I tend to avoid places with loud music, it can really detract from the food, conversation, etc. Quieter places get my custom, so long as what they sell is good. Loud music can be a warning sign that says “We don’t care, please go away, unless you plan on not thinking or talking.”