Designing the Right Audio System for the Modern Restaurant

Today’s restaurant operators and managers should recognize the importance that music plays in creating an inviting atmosphere. Countless studies support the value of music in restaurants and hospitality in helping to create a customer experience. One study from 2019 from HUI Research suggests that music is not only a key part of creating a restaurant’s brand experience, but choosing the right music can actually lift sales by almost 10 percent. 

With all the decisions that restaurants must make, recognizing that music can significantly impact the bottom line means managers should choose content and equipment wisely. Restaurant managers know better than anyone that people have different tastes. The same applies to the style and even the volume at which the music is played. 

Restaurants that recognize the importance of music will select material depending on the concept, brand, and atmosphere they are trying to create. They also have a clear target customer in mind for the establishment. The volume at which restaurants play music varies widely. Additionally, the audio clarity is wholly dependent on the installed audio system a restaurant chooses. 

Background vs. Buzz 

Some restaurants play music at lower levels, true to the term ‘background music,’ comfortable enough for people to hear and talk. In other restaurants, music is core to the concept, and these establishments may play music at higher levels. From electronic dance to international music, these establishments focus on creating energy, and the music alone gets people talking louder, creating a buzz. If you’ve visited one of these restaurants, you know it immediately. 

As restaurant operators, it’s important to remember that your personal choice in music and the volume at which you play it may differ from your customers, even if you nail the concept and attract the right demographic. Music style and volume are individualistic, and you cannot please everyone on every visit. Music reflects your brand and the experience you are trying to create. Then, the audio system purchased to deliver the experience must match the restaurant’s needs and its target customer. 

Restaurant Type and Size Matters 

Generally speaking, restaurants have two types of audio needs. The first is communication technology, like paging to communicate to guests or back of house communications for personnel and management. This type of technology can improve operations, timeliness of service, and overall efficiency. Second, restaurants need music, and today, more and more, these audio systems can do it all, making it easier for both restaurants and audio system installers.    

The style and size of a restaurant will dictate operational needs, and the atmosphere the concept aims to deliver will dictate audio system needs. For instance, a restaurant with a smaller footprint may not need a paging or staff communication system, but it will always need background music. A restaurant with more spaces or zones, such as a dining room, bar, patio, or private room, plus the back of house and guest communications, especially if a restaurant has an outdoor waiting area, requires a system with more capabilities and power to reach these zones.   

Today’s audio systems can be an all-in-one solution for a restaurant, from paging to front and back of house, to background music. The latest systems can also automate volume control to relieve the management and staff from making manual adjustments. By installing noise level sensors in a space, audio systems can detect decibel level drops or spikes and automatically raise or lower the volume to help patrons enjoy the experience and communicate regardless of whether the restaurant is at or below capacity. This reduces the burden on staff when the restaurant is at capacity and teams are buzzing, allowing everyone to focus on the task at hand — serving customers and providing a five-star experience.  

Regardless of the size of the restaurant, sound quality can distinguish a restaurant, leading us to choose the right loudspeakers to match the concept, brand, and space.  

Choosing the Right Loudspeakers 

Loudspeakers represent a key element of a restaurant’s brand voice. Too often, restaurants underinvest in loudspeaker quality, leading to mismatches with the restaurant concept, which can be detrimental to its image and success. 

Before choosing any element of the audio system, talk to a professional integrator for the best results. They’ll be able to provide expert advice on components and systems best suited to your application and budget. Loudspeakers come in a variety of form factors, each with their own pros and cons. Integrators can provide guidance on the types of loudspeakers best-suited for your restaurant and where loudspeakers should be mounted — and how many are needed — for best effect. Also, the type of music you play can influence which loudspeakers will work best. Lower volume background music can be accommodated by a broader range of loudspeakers than, say, live music on the weekends.

Before choosing any loudspeaker, be sure to listen to them. A good integrator will have an audio demo room or customer with installed systems you can visit to hear the different systems and loudspeakers. If they don’t, find a different integrator. Often they’ll play audio tracks that provide a good representation of vocal range and instrumentation. Still, you should also consider having them play a track that you’re familiar with, or that represents the music that will be played in the restaurant for additional comparison. 

Finally, some restaurants choose to install residential speakers for various reasons, and I do not recommend it. Commercial-grade loudspeakers are built for extended use and are more durable. Additionally, they come in a far wider range of styles and sizes, including ceiling mounted and hidden speakers. For instance, certain commercial speakers can be color matched to specific patterns within a restaurant, such as wood paneling or concrete textures. These loudspeakers are more aesthetically pleasing and won’t be as conspicuous. 

When it comes to the choice of music, remember, it should always be about your customer. You can easily turn people away if your music is too loud. Poor audio quality will reflect negatively on the brand you are working so hard to create. Don’t fall short in that final mile. Also, just because you have perfect hearing doesn’t mean all your patrons will, regardless of how young your target audience may be. What’s high energy to you may be obnoxious to others. The latest audio systems can simplify a restaurant’s operation, automatically manage your music and create a more consistent experience.