Chennai: Delicious food, aesthetic ambience and good service usually make the dining experience worthwhile except for that mild cacophony – or ‘music’ as they call it – in the background. Blaring tunes, old regional melodies and instrumental songs, nothing spares the city’s mall goers, movie lovers and foodies. But things may be changing with younger restaurateurs paying closer attention to their playlists.
Bad music is akin to a lingering bitter taste in your mouth after a scrumptious meal. What constitutes good and bad music may be subjective, but most Chennaiites seem to agree that except for a few, not many places take the effort to play pleasant music.
“Most restaurants focus only on food, ambience and service. Music is usually a last minute addition and often includes songs which are a personal favourite of the staff, instead of gauging the crowd,” says music buff Vidyuth Subramanian, who also works in the restaurant industry, adding that customers should also be active listeners rather than pay attention only to familiar tunes.
But there are many elements that go into choosing melodies. “The songs must suit the ambience and cuisine of a restaurant. If the music is too loud or repetitive or old, it can put off customers,” says Nithin S, music enthusiast and artist manager, recalling how he never returned to a particular restaurant because he didn’t like their music.
Some eateries and malls prefer the ‘safer’ choice of instrumental music which is either peppy or melodious. “When they use such music, it just shows their lack of interest in choosing tracks,” says Nithin, adding that in cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai restaurateurs invest time in picking songs, understanding its importance in attracting customers.
While some may think that licences and royalties may be the reason for fewer options, members of the Phonographic Performance Limited (Chennai) – which gives out licenses, say most malls and restaurants renew their licences annually.
Malls take a different route to music. While some like Phoenix Marketcity live streams music from websites like BM Asia, certain others like Express Avenue (EA) change the music according to the time of the day. For instance, in EA, slow instrumental music is played in the morning; retro melodies are broadcast post lunch and fast-paced beats in the evening as more youngsters come then, says Raajrishi Tiwari, general manager – events, EA. Yet, many visitors say the music scene can be improved especially in multiplexes of these malls.
A handful of malls, bistros and fine dining restaurants stand out for their music. For Praveen Raj, CEO Barbeque Grill, investing in good acoustics was important too. “I change the music depending on the crowd and I have a diverse collection which connects to different audiences,” says Raj, adding that music blogs are a good way for restaurateurs to keep upbeat on trends and select tracks.
Interestingly, many places prefer English songs as they have a wider reach and usually south Indian joints opt for local favourites while their north Indian counterparts choose Bollywood hits.
When live music suits the ambience, it enhances the dining experience. “In fine dining restaurants like Dakshin at the Crowne Plaza, the traditional instrumental pieces played live by musicians complements the food and ambience,” says M Mohamed Ali, founder, Chennai Food Guide.
Similarly, many customers say weekly solo performances in the evening at places like La Amandier make for pleasant dinners. In fact, customers say making music a crucial factor for rating places can incentivise owners to pay more attention to the tracks.
(Written for the Times of India, Chennai. )