Chris Fletcher

The Best Background Music for Restaurants

Music isn’t just an entertainment tool - it has the power to make us behave and feel a certain way. Startle are lucky to work with some of the biggest and best restaurant brands in the world, from high-street chains to high-end hideouts to eclectic independents. Whether you’re looking to influence dwell-time, increase customer spend or boost employee productivity, perfecting your music can drive your objectives and make your restaurant environments sing.

It can seem like an overwhelming subject, so Startle are here to break it down. Wondering what music to play, about the licenses needed, or just want to understand why it’s so important? This guide has got you covered.


  1. Why do most restaurants have background music?
  2. How should I choose the music for my restaurant?
  3. How much is a music licence for a restaurant?
  4. Can I play Spotify in my restaurant?
  5. What kind of music is best for my restaurant?
  6. How can technology help me with the music in my restaurant?
  7. Pizza Pilgrims - Case Study

Why do most restaurants have background music?

It would be pretty weird if they didn’t, right?

Music is a key element in creating the perfect restaurant atmosphere. On the surface, it’s an entertainment tool. It provides a backing track to the chatter, and can help make the experience memorable if done right.

But aside from entertainment, background music can also serve a purpose in a restaurant. It can help your brand appear more distinct and consistent, as well as helping you achieve business goals (we’ll get into that).

The bottom line is, most restaurants have background music because it’s essential in the dining experience, both in the moment for enjoyment reasons, but also afterwards in brand recall and positive associations.

How should I choose the music to play in my restaurant?

This is obviously quite a subjective question, and one that our music team tackles every day with different customers. There’s a lot of elements to consider, for example:

  • What market is your restaurant in?
  • What type of food are you serving?
  • What type of brand are you trying to portray?
  • What type of ambience exists in the restaurant?
  • Who is your target market?

It’s so important for your restaurant’s background music to work well with your brand. An obvious example is an Italian restaurant not playing traditionally Mexican music, or a fast-food restaurant playing super soft, low-key music (unless you’re McDonald’s trying to tackle unwanted anti-social behaviour). But it’s the less obvious brand characteristics which need to align too - for example, Startle work with ASK Italian:

In our first profiling session with ASK’s brand team, we were captivated by the idea of the Italian coastline. The feeling of discovering new sights. The subdued, relaxed atmosphere of being on holiday. How your mind can be transported by sight, sound and smell. Sound came in the form of more subdued tones: soft synths, muted or hushed vocals and elegant, uplifting melodies. It was clear that we should use a wide range of artists from a plethora of genres, but that the overall mood should be very relaxed.

- James, Creative Director

Startle work with multiple brands from the Azzurri Group, each with a varying music profile, clearly demonstrating the importance of your music matching your brand.

Another thing to consider when choosing the music to play in your restaurant is your business objectives, and how you want your customers to behave. This might vary throughout the day or even the year, but it’s important to remember that music has the ability to make us feel and act in specific ways.

Research compiled at the University of Oxford shows that:

  • Loud music with a fast tempo encourages diners to eat faster, but also enjoy their food less, and perhaps have less of an appetite
  • Soft music with a slower beat encourages diners to slow down and stay longer - resulting in less table turns - but also typically order more
  • Higher notes are generally associated with and can accentuate the sensation of sweetness - The Guardian cites a study in which participants were given coffee listening to both high and low frequency sounds - the high notes enhanced sweetness.
  • Resonate notes can provoke sensations of bitterness

So, if you’re a fast food chain looking to rush customers out the door as quickly as possible, faster tempo music is the one for you. On the flip side, if you’re a luxury restaurant encouraging your customers to savour every bite and sip, you’re better off with softer music. This might even vary within the same restaurant - you could turn the tempo up during happy hour, slow it down during the afternoon lull, and turn the volume down as the dinner service draws to a close at 10pm. It’s all about knowing your restaurant, your customers, and your objectives.

It’s also important to keep your background music fresh, of course for your customers, but also for your staff. There’s nothing worse than hearing the same songs for months on end, so keep staff morale high by keeping the soundtrack exciting.

Startle have got over 100 regularly updated Startle playlists spanning genres and eras for you to choose from, or they offer a bespoke music profiling service to perfectly match your brand.

Do I need a music license for my restaurant? How much is it?

You’ll usually need to get a Public Performance License if you:

  • Play recorded music in public or at your business (including background music on a CD, radio or music channel).
  • Stage live music events in public (for example, a concert or festival).
  • Play live music or recorded music in a theatre.
  • Use sound recordings in a theatrical production (including on-stage and off-stage effects).

This obviously covers basically every retail and hospitality business. Music is so important to creating the perfect atmosphere, so it’s only fair that Startle follow the rules and make sure money is going to the artists. You could also be sued for copyright infringement if you don’t.

If you’re in the UK, you can contact PPL PRS to check if you need a license, or check out their sector page for information more specific to restaurants.

How much your license will cost depends on a few factors, like the size and type of venue you’re looking to play the music in, and how the music is used. Below are some examples of licensing costs, just to give you an idea of what you might be spending.

All cost examples are subject to change. Office and Workplace, Shops and Stores, Hair and Beauty updated February 2023. Fitness and Dance updated February 2023. Restaurants and Cafés updated January 2023. Pubs and Bars updated January 2023. Daily cost examples are based on music usage for 365 days a year.View latest examples here. For a guide on music licensing, head here.

Can I play Spotify in my restaurant?

Streaming platforms like Spotify are great consumer music services that are designed for personal consumption. They’re affordable, easy to use, and often highly personalised.

But unfortunately, they’re not intended for commercial use. They don’t cover the licenses for commercial use, or ensure that artists, songwriters, composers, recording labels, music publishers and rights holders are properly paid for music played in a business environment. In simple terms, you’d be guilty of copyright infringement, and denying an artist the payment they’re entitled to by using it without the necessary permissions.

That’s why professional music services like Startle are here (and they can import your Spotify playlists, if you really love them).

What kind of music is best for my restaurant?

As mentioned earlier, this is very subjective, and can even vary between restaurant brands that look similar and target the same audience. So, here are some examples.

Wondering why ‘fancy’ restaurants play ‘fancy’ music? By this, we often mean classical music. Firstly, researchers from the University of Leicester played classical music, pop music, and no music at an upscale British restaurant over the course of 18 nights. They found that diners who’d heard classical music spent significantly more on average than those who listened to pop music or silence. And the slower pace of most classical songs encourage this further, slowing down the eating pace of customers and even making the food appear more luxurious.

This might make you think - if I’m a casual restaurant and I want my customers to spend more money, shall I just play classical music? The answer is no. It’s important to be careful in meeting customer expectations - classical music fits well with the atmosphere of a high class restaurant, meeting the expectancy theory.

If you’re a casual restaurant, you’re likely to make different choices. Genres like contemporary rock and indie pop often give off a relaxed vibe, but it’s all dependent on your brand.

When trying to create a calming atmosphere there are two ways you could go about it. Music that is traditionally subtle, like jazz and chamber music, is perfect for setting a relaxed and sophisticated tone. This kind of sound works best in venues where other aspects of the environment (decor, lighting, layout) are also polished so that the contextual fit is strong. For more down to earth venues, it can be interesting to explore parallel genres. For example, rather than looking at straight up pop or R&B, indie pop or alternative R&B can work nicely as they are often less rigid in form, which creates a nice, relaxed feeling.

- Magnus, Music Consultant

Ultimately, the best type of music for your restaurant will depend on a lot of factors. Startle are here to help if you need guidance.

How can technology help me with the music in my restaurant?

The technology you’ll need to play music in your restaurant will depend on the size of your sites and what capabilities you have.

Firstly, you’ll need somewhere to schedule and manage your background music. Startle Studio is built to be easy - it can equip each site with a set of powerful tools to control the music and atmosphere from just a few clicks, or set up different permissions to leave the site managers doing what they do best. Remember how we said you might need different tempos, volumes, and playlists for different times of the day? This can be overwhelming, but with Studio you can schedule playlists in advance, drag them across multiple days if needed, and you know you’re in safe hands. You can access Studio on your laptop, PC, or phone, so it’s available wherever you are.

That’s also where our product Atmosphere can also help. Our discrete sensors record over 10,000 atmospheric metrics per day to help you predict your future trends and allow you to make real time atmosphere adjustments, like your playlists and volume. To find out more about Atmosphere and the operational benefits it can have for your restaurant, head here.

It’s also good to note the benefits of using digital signage alongside your background music. Digital signage can also help reduce frustration in waiting times, showcase promotions, and sync with your music to create an even more synchronous brand experience.

Once the music is scheduled, there’s no doubt that the stereo equipment you choose plays an essential role. Your choice of set up might include speakers, amplifiers, and mixers. For example, the Startle player can integrate with Sonos and Chromecast speakers. Chat to an expert about the technology requirements for your restaurants.

The Perfect Background Music - Pizza Pilgrims

Pizza Pilgrims wanted their music to contain “something for everyone”. The dream was that their eclectic ensemble of forgotten hits, standout album tracks and soon-to-be classics would become a major talking point for customers. That feeling of hearing an old favourite wash over you, or being so incredibly irked that you cannot think of the artist but it's on the tip of your tongue, only to admit defeat and Shazam it.

Their music profile is split into two key playlists: Cool Down and Fired Up.

Cool Down is designed for off-peak times, consisting of moderate BPMs and high valence scores (track happiness). Standing at around 2000 tracks, it spans multiple eras, multiple genres, and is an exhaustive list that illustrates the sheer breadth of popular music available. This meets the objective - “something for everyone”.

Listening to Fired Up, we hear a sharp increase in tempo, a shift upwards in the overall popularity of artists (according to streaming data), and of course, high valence scores. Managing cover time through music tempo and creating an experience customers can easily connect with (popular artists) was important for Pizza Pilgrims, and setting parameters for BPM, energy and track popularity allowed us to achieve this.

Startle has proved to be the perfect partner for Pizza Pilgrims, embracing all of our ideas for using music and technology to enhance our pizzerias. Our playlist management has improved massively, but the custom integrations we've been able to build in are the most exciting part.

- Thom Elliott, Pizza Pilgrims

Heard enough?

Creating a standout restaurant experience isn’t easy. Chat to the Startle team today to find out how we can use music and tech to serve up the perfect atmospheres in your restaurants and help you achieve your goals.

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