In the Mood for Food

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The risk of turning off customers is so great, and the potential of increasing a customer’s pleasurable dining experience so high, restaurant managers have good reason to think seriously about their choice in musical selection. “What was once largely driven by intuition is now driven just as much by science and technology,” notes Underhill.

Sensing a market niche in need of a leader, Allen Klevens stepped in to fill the void. “The choice of music can make or break the dining experience,” believes Klevens, who formed his company, Prescriptive Music, in 1999. Today, it is the fastest-growing music-sensory branding firm, pocketing a 40 percent increase in profits in 2011 over the previous year. “Restaurant owners are realizing the right soundtrack can increase sales. There is no question that if you like the music, you will linger longer over dinner or order more drinks at the bar.”

To maximize his business model, Klevens sends a team of music consultants into the restaurant space with a detailed checklist of criteria: What is the lighting like? The room shape? Decor? “The most important thing is talking to the chef,” says Klevens, who counts Wolfgang Puck and the Four Seasons hotel group among his clients. “We want to understand the flavors, the subtleties of the chef’s style. People talk about pairing wine with food. I think of it as music pairing.” Sometimes, he adds, contrast works as well as complement: At the Beverly Hills steakhouse Cut, Klevens chose to play against the stark, modern decor with a playlist of classic rock, including Pink Floyd and Elton John.

Moreover, you need to be able to adapt your soundtrack to the time of day, day of the week, and even the type of customer you’re serving at any particular meal. As part of creating a customized music plan, Klevens connects his clients’ sound systems remotely to his office computers, so workers can be ready at a minute’s notice to make adjustments to sound, volume, and genre.

No longer a fledgling industry, customized music is now an essential component of the high-end restaurant experience. “We can literally alter your music in a matter of minutes,” Klevens reports, adding that his team does this regularly when a celeb makes a surprise visit. “If Beyoncé walks into your restaurant and you want to drop her songs in the mix every fourth track, we can do it almost instantly.”

As sound technology improves, Klevens believes demand for his services will continue to grow. “Music is the butter on the bread,” he says. “We’re that little extra thing that makes your food taste better.”

What’s Your Soundtrack?

Gourmet Live snuck a peek at restaurant playlists around the country

Highland Kitchen, Somerville, Massachusetts
Food: All-American comfort fare with a Southern influence
Vibe: Neighborhood pub feel, comfortable chairs, a few booths; bar and restaurant share a single room
Clientele: Family crowd early; young hipsters later at night
Music: A jukebox stocked with albums with a nostalgic flair—classic rock (Degüello by ZZ Top), jazz (Money Jungle by Duke Ellington), country, and R&B

Katra Lounge, New York City
Food: Moroccan/Mediterranean
Vibe: Warm Moroccan-casbah feel, with ornate lamps and rich colors
Clientele: Young and hip, with a business crowd earlier in the evening
Music: (By Prescriptive) In the early evening, songs like Samira Saeed’s “Aal Eah” and Rhany’s “Un Mot de Toi” convey the feeling of Morocco while still being cool and modern. Late-night tunes include Peter Bjorn and John’s “Breaker Breaker” and Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead,” both upbeat and energetic to match the lively lounge scene.

Postrio Bar & Grill, Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas
Food: Pasta, steak, seafood, something for everyone
Vibe: Contemporary, minimalist
Clientele: Mix of high-end older and younger adults
Music: Tracks with a modern twist on the traditional Rat Pack vibe, such as a remix of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” and De-Phazz and Pat Appleton’s “The Mambo Craze”

Julia Savacool, author of The World Has Curves, contributes to Self, Women’s Health, USA Today, and other publications. Her most recent story for Gourmet Live was Seeds of Discontent, a look at the ongoing battle between organic farmers and Monsanto.

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