Grocery stores play slow music to have you linger, while restaurants blast rock tunes because they want you to chew faster
It turns out that music soothes both (inebriated) man and beast.
McDonald’s has been playing classical music during late nights at select outlets in the United Kingdom and Australia in a bid to calm down intoxicated customers. According to news.com.au, a franchise of the fast food chain in Glasgow started playing Mozart during late hours several years ago to deter brawls and what the British call “anti-social” behavior.
Late nights at some Golden Arches aren’t fun: Staff at a McD’s branch in Sydney’s nightlife district have complained about drunk walk-ins stealing burgers and vandalizing the store. The Glasgow experiment apparently succeeded because Bach and his counterparts are now played in some English and Australian branches too (the fast food giant says it’s up to individual franchisees to decide if they want to play classical music.)
“It’s a brilliant move by the store owners,” Kevin Perlmutter, executive vice president and chief of innovation at sound studio Man Made Music tells Moneyish. “They recognize that music can take us to moods we want to be in and playing classical music almost certainly calms the inebriated down.” He thinks it’s not unlike how calming music has recently been piped into the platforms at Newark Penn Station in New Jersey, where train riders have recently faced heavy delays.
Still, the use of classical music to encourage the inebriated to behave is a relatively new phenomenon. That said there is some science behind it. According to a 2015 study from the University of Helsinki, listening to the right kind of classical music “enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport.” In appropriate quantities, dopamine is associated with reducing anxiety— good for both fast wood workers and their would-be assailants.
Companies have long known that playing the right type of tune can influence consumer behavior. Man Made Music, which counts AT&T and the Alzheimer’s Association as clients, has made a living off this. “The music that comes out at AT&T Stadium, where Dallas Cowboys play, is very different from that at an AT&T retail store,” says Perlmutter. “Whereas the Alzheimer’s Association music is more intimate and personal.”
Tempo is a big factor. A landmark 1982 “Journal of Marketing” study conducted in a New York City grocery store found that playing slow music led to shoppers lingering and spending an average of 32% more when they eventually ring out at the till. According to research done in the 1990s at the University of Strathclyde, those who dined at an eatery playing faster and louder music stayed almost 14 minutes less than individuals who listened to a slower soundtrack.
But diners don’t always appreciate being manipulated: then-New York Times food critic Frank Bruni famously cut a star from his review of the upscale Manhattan restaurant Babbo because he was annoyed they played “Lou Reed and Moby, at a volume that rises around 10:30 p.m., as if patrons are being cued to chew faster.”
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