How the Right Playlist Can Rock Your Restaurant or Retail Sales

Music that’s in tune with your brand identity and customer base can help drive sales.
Resources such as SiriusXM for Business and Spotify Business provide music mixes that are cleared for use and tailored to your needs. (Photo:

To make your business attractive to customers, you’ve considered everything from signage to lighting and décor. But to keep people coming through the doors, you also need to curate what’s coming through the speakers.

Consumers may not always pay conscious attention to the music that businesses play, but it can significantly influence their overall impression.

Related: 6 Retail Store Design Tweaks to Boost Sales

“If you have the wrong music, customers don’t like the experience of being at your place, but they often don’t know why,” said Dewayne Rains, vice president of operations at Audio Electronics, Inc., which provides background music, hold music and audio design services for businesses.


As a hobby, Danny Turner, vice president of programming and production at Mood Media, restores vintage “tube-driven” hifi gear, guitar amps and radios – he’s holding a vacuum tube. (Photo: Danny Turner)

Music selection can also sway customers’ dining and shopping choices, and even their budget limits, according to a 2015 study by scientists at Curtin University and Macquarie University in Australia. By playing music from a certain nation, the researchers found they could influence subjects to choose dishes from that country’s native cuisine. The researchers also discovered classical music makes people willing to pay more for luxury items, while country tunes make them willing to pay more for utilitarian products.

“Music incongruent with product image can lead to a reduction in the maximum prices consumers are prepared to pay,” wrote the researchers in the Journal of Retailing.

With so much at stake, it’s smart to make music work to your advantage. Take these steps to create a mix that means business for your business.

Go pro. It may be tempting to simply plug your cell phone into a speaker and start playing whatever’s on there, but music generally needs to be licensed for retail use. Services such as Mood Media’s “Mood Mix,” SiriusXM for Business and Spotify Business can provide a cost effective music mix that’s tailored to your needs and cleared for use. Depending on the service you use, you often can pick and choose songs on the provider’s website with the click of a button.

Please your customers, not yourself. “The most common mistake I see small business owners make is playing the music that they personally like, not music that their customers would enjoy,” said Danny Turner, global senior vice president of programming and production at Mood Media, an international in-store provider of music. “You may be a fan of death metal, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for the experience you are trying to create.” Instead, he advises, think of the mood you want to convey — mellow? energetic? relaxing? nostalgic? This will help you decide on genres to include.

Take time of day into account. “Many businesses’ ambience changes at various times of the day,” Turner noted. If your morning crowds are sparse (or grouchy), you might want to play light, comforting oldies or newer songs with a warm sound or message (for instance, selections from Michael Bublé or Pentatonix). During a midday rush, pop tunes may be a better match for customers on the go. “And many restaurants have a very different clientele at night than during lunch,” Turner added. That may be a time to turn up the volume on edgier jams.


Refresh your playlist regularly and include about 300 to 400 songs to keep both customers and employees interested. (Photo:

Incorporate variety. Aim for a playlist of about 300 to 400 songs, Rains recommended. It may seem like more music than you need, but it’s an act of mercy for your employees. “You may think that since your customers only spend 30 or 40 minutes with you, a three-hour playlist is fine, but your employees may be working for four or eight hours. If the music irritates them, it may lead to a drop in the level of customer service they provide,” Rains warned. Refresh your playlist regularly, too. Rains is a fan of switching out at least some of the songs on a monthly basis.

Related: 7 Cheap or Free Ways to Make Your Employees Happy

Read or listen to the lyrics of every song you will play. “Hitting the ‘non-explicit’ button next to a song doesn’t guarantee it won’t be offensive,” Turner cautioned. After a spate of school shootings, for example, the popular song “Pumped Up Kicks,” about a boy who is plotting gun violence, was pulled from many playlists. Even older songs deserve careful consideration: Would “vertically challenged” women feel bad hearing Randy Newman sing about how “short people got no reason to live”?

Know when no lyrics is best. If you’re in the business of hosting or pampering people, you might want to skip the words altogether. “A lot of hotels and spas use really great instrumental music instead,” observed Turner. “It lends a sense of sophistication and is more metropolitan.”

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