Not Just Background Music

Music is a must in any hospitality setting. Whether it’s a busy bar or restaurant, a laid-back lounge or a high-energy club, the music programming serves a critical purpose: engaging the guest to stay and spend. The “soundtrack” of the space can serve to slow down or speed up the pace of a guest’s stay, infusing it with energy or imparting a soothing vibe. Music can also signal to a customer that he’s in the right place or it can turn him away.

Indeed, studies show that playing the right combination of music at any establishment where guests have come to relax and enjoy themselves contributes to overall customer satisfaction and the likelihood that the guests will come back.

In short, whether generated by a band, a DJ or a pre-programmed playlist, music is a mood-creator and a money maker. And the house that truly seeks to get the jump on the competition would do well to give the good vibrations that trigger a customer’s natural instinct to stay some serious attention.

Specifically in programming playlists, operators can control the dynamics of a guest’s visit.

Music is always on the menu at Jack Astor’s, a restaurant and bar chain with nearly 30 locations in Canada and two in the United States. Dave Barton, a regional director for Jack Astor’s in Toronto, ranks music up there with food, specialty beverages and service in terms of its importance to the Jack Astor’s brand.

“We choose different types of music for lunch, dinner, evening and late night,” Barton says. “We are all about the environment. We want high energy and fun, and music plays a huge role in that.”

With 10 years experience in planning the music playlists for seven Jack Astor’s locations in Canada, Barton says he does not have to take a written survey of his own guests to know that the music programming is working for a given store location.

“We can gauge its success by the reaction of guests and the energy levels of the space,” he says. “We have guests asking, ‘Who is that? I remember this song.’ You can see it in their body language and also in the spirit and energy of the employees.”

Although there are many ways Barton could spend the several thousand dollars he allocates to music programming each month, he says the money is well spent based on the return it nets for the house.

“I would say it creates that energy and party environment that helps you sell some product and keep the guests longer.”

Tune Town
Is Barton a DJ in disguise? No. In fact, he turns to the experts to help him make the right music mix appear effortless. Toronto-based Hitmen Entertainment Services creates music playlists for Jack Astor’s, and advises the company on the music programming format, essentially delivering a secret weapon to compete in the city’s vibrant hospitality trade.

Finding the right vibe to fit the room is just the first step, says Hitmen Entertainment president DeMarinis. What separates the amateurs from the pros in stacking the music, he explains, is the ability to control the dynamic of the entire room and maintain the energy level throughout the night.

“Seventy-five percent of the job has nothing to do with the equipment or the way you look,” DeMarinis says. “It’s about picking the best songs, playing them in the right order and playing them at the right time. You want to keep the flow going. The worst thing that can happen is to play something that takes patrons out of their vibe.”

As DeMarinis advises clients that include bar, club and restaurant operators in Canada and the United States, live DJs as well as music derived from playlists each have their own harmonious place on the musical roster.

“On a Friday or Saturday or a Thursday, you are probably better off hiring a live DJ,” he says. “A live DJ has presence. The person is actually there. What that also means is, a DJ can actually pinpoint the mood and atmosphere of the room.”

The artistry and skill of a DJ is not just measured in his or her ability to read a crowd, however, DeMarinis adds. It will also be apparent, even if only on a subconscious level among guests, in the seamlessness of the house’s music tapestry.

“If you are playing Sinatra for an older crowd and for whatever reason, the next song is Justin Timberlake, and then you jump to AC/DC, there is no rhyme or reason. You are not going to enhance anyone’s stay. A good DJ will be able to get from playing Sinatra to Justin Timberlake. It might take three or four songs to get there, but the difference is, you are not taking people out of the moment.”
Still, DeMarinis suggests operators be circumspect in how they select a DJ for a special event or a weekend kickoff.

“You should consider your options,” he says. “Not all DJs can play for every type of crowd. They don’t get into it. Some guys love music and some love a specific kind of music.”

Above all, DeMarinis cautions, management needs to communicate openly with the DJ selected for the gig.

“It is very important to be straightforward about the kind of music you want played and the kind of clientele you want. And you should also listen to what a DJ has to say, because they have music expertise.”

Flow Maintenance
At the Loose Moose Tap & Grill in Toronto, assistant general manager Sean Russo says music programming plays a huge part in branding and legitimizing his establishment in the eyes of the public.  

“We are a rock ‘n’ roll party bar, so music is a very important aspect of our operation,” he says. “If there is no continuity or flow to the music that you are playing, you run into an identity crisis because you really are not what you are claiming to be.”

In his own experience, it is next to impossible for independent operators to create music playlists that work for the average patron.

“You may know good songs, but most operators don’t comprehend the continuity and the flow of music like a DJ does.”
Video DJ Roonie Griffeth, a veteran club music director and a partner in Martini’s lounge in Birmingham, Ala., says that just as many people believe they can sing, nightclub owners and music directors often have a distorted sense of their own music programming expertise.

“There are a lot of club owners who do not know the technical flow of the musical format,” says Griffeth, now a regularly featured DJ at the Mirage Casino’s Jet nightclub in Las Vegas. “They think they do. They know what they want, but it is not just about business and numbers. Music is art, and art is very subjective.”

Russo likes the convenience of sitting down with music programmers from Hitmen once a month and gauging the mood of the musical programming selection for the coming month. And even better, he says, once the playlists have been completed, is the way the music is delivered to the bar and the ears of patrons.

“At 5 p.m. on Valentine’s Day, they can program love music to come on,” Russo says. “They actually do the programming from their studio. They upload it to us on the Internet, and they can program it to start automatically any time of day. It is one less thing you have to worry about as a restaurant or bar.”

For his part, Griffeth appreciates the fact that music programming companies do all of the considerable legwork for him in an ever-changing club music environment. He’s engaged Orlando, Fla.-based Promo Only, a provider of music on CD and music video on DVD designed to meet the specific needs of various entertainment venues.

“The thing is, music changes every day, and Promo Only is a one-stop shop,” he says. “You are being updated constantly. I know that I am going to get the latest stuff, and I know that I am not going to have to spend another 10 hours a week looking for it.”

At the end of the day, Griffeth, a self-described “big believer” in music outsourcing, says he’s buying consistency.

“Your customers know what to expect, and they come back to get it.” NCB

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