If you believe music is the soundtrack to our lives, you know that the right song played at the right time can heighten the moment. The wrong tune? Discord.
Music can also help make or break a restaurant experience.
As part of its ongoing Consumer Brand Metrics program, Technomic asks consumers to report on the importance of “music selection is appropriate” to a restaurant visit. Among the 60-odd attributes covered, this one is far from the most important. But about half (52%) of casual-dining guests say it’s important or very important to their experience. And the music selection is slightly more important to women, millennials, nonwhites and those whose annual household income is $75,000 or more.
Customers also rate the music selection at specific chains they’ve visited recently. For this report, we’ve studied the ratings of the casual-dining chains within Technomic’s Top 100 by systemwide sales. What follows is a countdown of the top 10 casual-dining playlists. You’ll never guess who’s No. 1.
10. Logan’s Roadhouse
73.4% of Logan’s consumers say its music selection is very good or good.
Logan’s restaurants play a mix of country, blues and rockabilly, suitable for their roadhouse theme. The Nashville-based chain makes music a part of the brand, promising the “the sights, the sounds and the spirit of our Music City roots” and sponsoring programs that support music in schools programs.
Listen in: “All the Gold in California” by Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers Band
9. BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse
73.8% of BJ’s consumers say its music selection is very good or good.
According to a restaurant manager I chatted with, BJ’s plays “a mishmash of music.” Asked to elaborate, he said that means everything from ‘80s and ‘90s rock and pop to Taylor Swift. “It’s a family restaurant, so no cussing or death metal or anything like that.”
Listen in: “I Will Wait” by Mumford & Sons
8. Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen
74.8% of Cheddar’s consumers say its music selection is very good or good.
The playlist at Cheddar’s tends toward oldies: classic popular music from the ‘60s and ‘70s; it doesn’t seem to have changed since the “Scratch Kitchen” rebranding. Volume-wise, it’s loud enough that you can hear it, if you listen, but not so loud that you can’t hear each other talk.
Listen in: “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel
7. Cheesecake Factory
75.5% of Cheesecake Factory consumers say its music selection is very good or good.
Cheesecake Factory CEO David Overton is said to be actively involved in selecting the music, which, on the day I visited, was inaudible thanks to the crowd and the blender (all those pesky customers and their demand for blended cocktails!). After a few well-timed trips to the restroom, where one could hear the music, we learned that the playlist included alternative music, pop from the past 20 or so years, and a cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.”
Listen in: “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys
6. Bonefish Grill
76.3% of Bonefish Grill consumers say its music selection is very good or good.
The music at Bonefish Grill could be defined as New Age or smooth jazz. (Dining companion: “Sounds like Sade.”) I didn’t recognize any of the songs, at least one of which was in French; but they were very appealing, as were the appetizers and our chef-coated server. The volume helped create a nice buzz, but it wasn’t so noisy we couldn’t talk.
Listen in: “All Around the World” by Lisa Stansfield
5. Joe’s Crab Shack
77.1% of Joe’s Crab Shack consumers say its music selection is very good or good.
Joe’s Crab Shack is known for servers who drop everything to dance to songs like “Cotton Eye Joe,” but sadly they didn’t do so on my most recent visit. The mix of music was lively nonetheless, including oldies and classic rock as well as current R&B and pop. This Gen Xer enjoyed hearing Spandau Ballet’s “This Much Is True” mixed under a rap song.
Listen in: “Hey Baby” by Bruce Channel
4. Carrabba’s Italian Grill
77.2% of Carrabba’s consumers say its music selection is very good or good.
Despite its Italian cuisine, Carrabba’s does not play Italian music. Though a host says there’s a Frank Sinatra song every now and then among the mix of unobtrusive, inoffensive mainstream pop, R&B and country.
Listen in: “Feeling Good” by Michael Buble
3. Yard House
78.8% of Yard House consumers say its music selection is very good or good.
According to an April press release, “Yard House maintains a music library of approximately 5,000 songs that include mostly classic rock, but also hits from the ‘80s and ‘90s as well as some current artists whose music is inspired by past eras. The playlists are distinct to each location with each Yard House acting as its own ‘radio station.’”
Listen in: “American Woman” by The Guess Who
2. Maggiano’s Little Italy
82.2% of Maggiano’s consumers say its music selection is very good or good.
Maggiano’s is all about stereotypical Americanized Italian, from the big plates of fettucine Alfredo to the red-checkered tablecloths. No artist typifies that description more than Frank Sinatra. The chain’s website boasts, “To create the perfect ambience at every Maggiano’s, 2.1 million Frank Sinatra songs are played annually, enough to fill more than 1,000 iPods.”
Listen in: “Blue Skies” by Frank Sinatra
82.4% of Hooters consumers say its music selection is very good or good.
Hooters, a chain known for its sights (the sports on TV, of course) rather than its sounds, is No. 1 on a ranking of casual-dining playlists. I don’t believe Pandora has a “music to ogle women by” channel, so I have no benchmark. The noise from the crowd restricted my research, but what I was able to make out on my recent visit was nostalgic (Peter Gabriel), fun (Toby Keith) and/or party-appropriate (reggae).
Listen in: “Meet Virginia” by Train