Omnivore - Music hath charms that screw with your wallet

Restaurants' intentional cacophony

Image One of the most frequent questions I receive from readers is where to go for a "quiet dinner." The average restaurant is too noisy and crowded for the romantic dinner, much less intense conversation.

There are a few restaurants whose food I like very much but whose noisy ambiance makes me nuts. Usually, I opt for the patio whenever possible in that case.

You might presume restaurant cacophony is accidental. Actually, it's usually not, according to an article in the October issue of Psychology Today. Study after study has found that loud music in particular creates sensory overload that makes retail shoppers and restaurant diners more impulsive.

"Many restaurants," the article says, "intentionally forgo sound-absorbing materials,…preferring sound-bouncing stainless steel and tile to create an environment that feels lively, happening and successful (read: loud)."

As much as I do dislike very loud restaurants, when I go into one with a very light crowd, I feel self-conscious. The clinking of ice and the sound of a knife on the plate seem magnified to me. Conversation feels like fodder for eavesdropping if anyone is seated nearby. But I suppose all that could also be a reason to crank up the music.

Other findings Psychology Today notes about music in culinary venues:

Slow music encourages patrons to linger — spurring them to splurge on that dessert or extra drink.

When a wine store played French music, most customers bought French wine, while German music spurred sales of German wine.

Good news for waiters everywhere: A recent French study revealed that playing songs with "prosocial" lyrics — those about empathy and helping others — can increase tips.