A hand-curated playlist is the difference between buying a blazer off the rack and getting it tailored, says Janice Bond, director of music and social programming at The Kimpton Gray Hotel and rooftop restaurant and bar Boleo in Chicago. “When there’s intention behind an experience, it changes the way that it’s consumed, crafted and maintained,” Bond says. But without the music fairies behind streaming sites playing DJ, operators have to consider the genre, tone, progression and volume of their songs. Here are a few pro tips to ensure your playlists don’t miss a beat.
1. Watch and listen
Whenever Bond debuts new music at Boleo, she sits and watches how people react. She watches for cues like head bobbing, feet tapping and how people are moving around the room. For additional insights, she asks everyone from managers to barbacks for a review of the music. “These are the people spending the most time in the space; they can give you a sense of how guests are feeling,” she says.
2. Think surface-level
Bar Manager Christopher Longoria curates music for contemporary, ingredient-driven restaurant 1760 in San Francisco. When picking out songs, Longoria considers the shape and surfaces of 1760’s space. “Although the song might be right for the vibe, it might not be good for the space,” he says. High-fidelity songs produced before the ’60s can create a hollow sound in an open space, and trumpets and brass often bounce off hard surfaces.
3. Work the festival circuit
Concerts and festivals are the perfect place to scout music and gage crowd reactions, says Sheena Jacobs, Yard House’s manager of music design. For a national chain like Yard House, located in 23 states, Jacob says it’s important to pay attention to regional preferences and customize the playlist accordingly.
4. Tap an expert
When Alex Harrell opened Angeline in New Orleans, he called upon his friend Murf Reeves, a local radio DJ, to help him navigate the music selection process. On a quarterly basis, the two get together to generate several playlists for different occasions, events and dayparts.
5. Mix, but match
Both Angeline and New American restaurant Ela in Philadelphia consider the vibe and theme of their concepts when making music selections. Angeline’s playlist follows Harrell’s journey from Alabama to his pursuit of opening a restaurant—from his parent’s doo-wop favorites to New Orleans’ signature blues. Ela’s playlist, curated by head server and musician Josh Brown, rotates to mirror the frequently changing seasonal menu.