Does Your Bar Sound Successful?

When people think about their small businesses, they usually talk about the “taste” of success, the “feel” of success, and the “look” of success, but they forget all about the sound of success. When guests come into your bar or restaurant, they decide if they like your business within 10 seconds—and that decision usually happens much faster. You already know that your guests are making snap decisions based on the décor, or the smell of the place, but one thing that also helps your customers decide whether they’ll stay or leave is the soundtrack. Here’s how to fix a few blunders your bar may be making.

Match the sound to the crowd

A few weeks ago I was in Temperance Beer Company in Evanston, IL. Temperance has incredible craft brews and a laid-back vibe, plus, their new bar’s quirky walls score top marks for décor. In addition to delicious beer, their wood-scented taproom has a long, inviting wooden bar, and short, long, low tables that look like they’re made for friends to just sit around, hang out, and talk for hours. The bar also has no televisions (which I love), and the lack of televisions is also clearly meant to get guests talking.

However, their music was too loud to talk over.

My friends and I sat in near-silence, sipping our beers and making brief comments on those nifty walls—then we paid for our beers and left.

Make Your Bar the Perfect Place for Your Guests. If you want people talking in your bar, turn down the music or the TVs. If you want people watching sports, make sure the TVs have captions on them and that the music isn’t too loud either. The only time you should have loud music in your bar is if you want your guests dancing.

Don’t scare away the regulars

I used to go to Jinja, a restaurant in Santa Fe, NM, all the time. The place had delicious food, the absolute best vintage drinks in the whole town, and the interior was sumptuously gorgeous with small, intimate, pillow-filled booths everywhere you looked. As I say, I used to go there all the time, but then they started playing this jazz album in which Madeleine Peyroux performed a terrible cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.” The first time I heard this song, I commented on how dreadful it was and promptly forgot all about it.

The next time I was at Jinja, the same CD was playing, and the same song came on.

I half-heartedly made fun of it, then I just waited for it to end. Then, the NEXT time I was at Jinja, the same soundtrack was playing. At this point, I can’t even think of Jinja without thinking of that dreadful song—and I have no doubt that it is playing as you are reading this.

Switch out the CDs. If you’ve got great food, incredible ambiance, and a killer drink menu, you probably have some dedicated regulars as well. Don’t scare them away by playing the same CD over and over again, switch up the music. Try an iPod.

Slow down the tempo

Another place with incredible food is Opart Thai, in Chicago. Opart has great prices, a vast and delicious menu, and some of the most detailed decorations I’ve ever seen in a restaurant… but the sound of the place is, er, not so good. They play fast-paced, synthesized, instrumental pop covers. Not only is it unpleasantly distracting to play “Name That Tune” in your head every second, it also speeds up the dining experience and creates a strange mismatch between the way the place looks and the way the place sounds.

The speed of the music dictates your turnover. Make sure that you play slower music if you want your guests to sit a while and enjoy their food or drink (and order more), but if you’re looking for a faster turnaround, go ahead and play that faster music.

Before the rush begins today, you should sit down at a table and listen to what’s playing. Look at your surroundings. Does what you see match up with what you hear? Are you playing something that your guests will want to listen to? Is it something that they’ll be able to relax with? Think about what the sound of success is to your bar, and make that success a reality.

Photo licensed by Stephen Duong