/ 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?

SueJ says:
2 June 2015

I’m a tinnitus sufferer, lots of loud rock music in my youth, and background music either causes me to be deafer (then I and my companions end up shouting) or to be physically in pain. I can no longer count the number of times I have been forced to leave an establishment because of the stress and pain.
Some pubs and restaurants will turn the music down or try and find me a quiet corner but those that don’t do not get a return visit.
Let’s make this a country wide campaign using the Disabilities Act as a basis for change.

I definitely support your proposed use of disability legislation to outlaw this; it’s a powerful tool. At the same time, you will achieve a benefit for all of society, not only for those who having a hearing impairment.

Trish I says:
2 June 2015

I hate music in restaurants and in pubs. If I want to listen to music, I would go to a concert. Quite a lot of the time the music drowns out any talking. You have to shout to your partner/friend(s)/family and it’s quite annoying. I usually end up with a headache and get out as quickly as I can.

Piped music is a curse everywhere, and this most certainly includes restaurants. If anything it is even more of a nuisance; at least with shops you can leave quickly after completing your purchases.

Restaurant ‘music’ is the reason that my friends and I rarely eat out, except in eateries which are mercifully free of this curse.

I went to this lovely, local Greek restaurant the other night, and although the food was delicious, I was getting a little frustrated by the loud, traditional music blaring from their sound system. It felt like I was listening to the Eurovision 2015 soundtrack!

I’m definitely not the greatest fan of music playing while I’m eating, but sometimes I do enjoy it when there’s live music instead – what’s your thoughts?

David Andrew says:
4 June 2015

I prefer Live music at a Concert venue, not in a Restaurant.

Andrew, the Greek entry this year was “One Last Breath”. I do hope that was just coincidental and that you survived the meal.

I think restaurants should advertise whether they play music or not and then you could choose where to enjoy your meal.

Sally says:
4 June 2015

I’d be happy if they just provided a quiet area. They used to have to provide non-smoking areas – why can’t they provide muzak-free sections?

Ralph says:
6 June 2015

Everyone should join Pipedown. It is an organisation against piped music, particularly in restaurants. They have a list of pubs and restaurants without piped music. I always ask for the music to be turned off, not down. Or, go into a restaurant and very politely ask them if they know of a restaurant nearby without music. That often makes them turned it off.

Felix M says:
6 June 2015

I am frequently irritated by music in shops and restaurants. Background music is something pleasant to be played at low volume and does not call for our full concentration. It is a specific form of music. Other music does call for our full attention and is likely to irritate either because we want to give our full attention to the company we are with or because the music is not to our taste. Shop owners and restaurateurs should get advice if they don’t feel confident to distinguish.

I will often visit a local hotel with my girlfriend and pay a bit extra because they will have a live pianist. I think it creates a romantic atmosphere.

Yes, I avoid eating out because of piped music. I don’t like music of any kind played while I am eating in a restaurant if it’s produced from an electronic system such as a juke box or CD player or even worse an MP3 player or iPod. I don’t mind live music however. I think this is because music reproduced electronically is incessant, i.e. there is no relief from it because the music is not reproduced by human beings, it can go on for ever & a day particularly if those in charge of it forget that it’s on. Live bands however, being human, tire & have to stop at some point, which means the music stops. Unfortunately, what happens very often is, that instead of giving the customer a rest some creature then switches on the electronic music reproduction system which then goes on for ever. In this respect the introduction of electronic music reproduction systems has proved to be a curse. In the old days they could only use a palm court orchestra or something similar which of course couldn’t go on for ever!

A E Tilling says:
22 June 2015

For shopping do as I do and use Aldi or Lidl .No music in those shops. But eating out,for me, is very often more of an ordeal than a pleasure nowadays. I don’t think I am alone in this reaction. I would support a campaign for a little peace and quiet in restaurants

Sid says:
27 June 2015

Restaurants play loud music for a reason. If you can’t have a conversation with your friends, what do you do instead? Eat. What do you do when you’ve finished eating? Leave. What does the restaurant do with your prematurely vacated table? Fill it with another customer.

I often ask for the music to be turned, down. If I get fobbed off, well there goes the service charge. I’m getting grumpier though, and it won’t be long before my response to ‘the other customers like it’ will be to stand up and loudly ask the other customers to raise their hands if they prefer the loud music. I may also start asking for the music to be turned down just as my first course is delivered. If the request is refused, I’ll just leave without eating.

Lance Pierson says:
30 June 2015

I am a great fan of the food at Pret a Manger, but NOT the accompanying music, which often sounds like a customer wailing with indigestion. I have more than once fed this comment in on their Comments card; but nothing has changed. I warmly welcome the idea of music-free areas in eating places, like the old non-smoking areas.

On the hottest July day since records began, when the temperature was 33 C in the shade, we went into a Costa coffee shop to enjoy a cup of coffee, a snack and the blissful air conditioning.

It could have been lovely but the music was loud, appalling ( to my taste) and inescapable. As far as I could tell no one was listening; most people were in couples or groups, and the people on their own were reading or working on their computers with headphones on.

Who really wants it? Why do they do it?

Dodie Gale says:
10 July 2015

Hi Dax, I tweeted your post to Costa Coffee @CostaCoffee saying that I agreed with it and why did they play music? They replied that “It’s to add to ambience but I’m happy to feed your comments back to our Marketing team”. (Don’t know if they will) Costa Coffee isn’t just paying licence fee money to play music that the majority of their customers don’t listen to; they are also paying a substantial fee to Mood Media who choose the music for them. Not quite sure what we have to do to convince them that they are wasting their money!

I live in a small village in N.E. Cumbria where the only pub used to be the centre of a vibrant village life and where many of us met in the hour or so before closing time to put the world and the village to rights over a pint or two. So for 30 years before retirement I was in every night unless ill on holiday or having visitors. This is no longer possible as the bar and restaurant suffer from incessant loud music and the landlord says that most of his customers like it. It is pointless telling him that he wouldn’t lose a single customer by turning it off and would gain a number of us who now never go. So many of us are missing out on what used to be the best part of village life. Of course we can go elsewhere. But it is not the same.


Twojays says:
22 August 2015

When my Partner and I use to go out for a meal we would never go back to an eating place where loud music was being played. Once we asked a Manager, in a Beefeater eating place, to turn the music off but were told that “Other people liked it”! When I go out for a meal I want to talk to the other people – not listen to some grotty music.
It’s the same in shops – I can’t really think clearly if there is loud music being played so usually end up walking out of the shop without buying anything.

David Love says:
24 August 2015

I greatly dislike music in shops. I drive 2 miles across town to the local Waitrose (no music & I can shop in peace) rather than walk to my local Co-op (loud and jarring music that makes the shopping experience unpleasant). The same is true, but even more so, of cafes and restaurants. I now actively avoid restaurants that have background music and actively seek out those where you can eat and converse in peace.

Couldn’t agree more about the Co-op. Whoever chooses their music needs their neck wrung.
It is a combination of wailing, moaning, and gloom which reminds me of cats having it off at midnight. Even the staff can’t stand it, never mind the customers-mostly late middle-aged.

Carole Longman says:
24 August 2015

I have a hearing problem and have to wear hearing aids. I have a big problem with piped music in shops and restaurants/cafes etc. The hearing aids, which help me to hear conversations better, make the music sound very loud and clear.
Hearing loud music does not make my experience of any establishment enhanced but exactly the opposite.
All credit to Wetherspoons who do not play piped music.

Carole, Action on Hearing Loss are beginning to investigate the effect of background noise in public spaces, particularly restaurants and cafes. They would like to hear from anyone with their personal experiences. The contact is Luke Dixon, Campaigns Officer. http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/hearingmatters).

Ian Curror says:
9 September 2015

In restaurants we choose food from the menu. In a free market economy, giving customers choice is fundamental. In shops there is usually more than one item on sale: we therefore have a choice as to what to buy. With piped music choice is denied. Where is the logic in this?

That might be an argument for having a juke box. 🙁 I would prefer peace and quiet.

I would agree with the comments about loud music being played in cafes and restaurants. Most people want to eat and converse, not listen to music. I find jazz music particularly irritating and cannot understand how anyone finds it relaxing to listen to this while eating a meal. If music must be played, then I think that classical music, at a low volume, would be tolerable to most customers.
Finding suitable premises which do not play music is becoming very difficult.