Spence: Loud noise suppresses our ability to taste
While music is often used as a mood enhancer at restaurants, “loud noise can suppress our ability to taste”, according to Oxford professor Charles Spence.
In an article in The Telegraph exploring whether a cleverly curated playlist can increase our appreciation of food in restaurants, Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, said venues that play their music too loud are at risk of dulling diners’ taste buds.
“Loud noise can suppress our ability to taste. Liked music means we will enjoy whatever we are tasting slightly more than if disliked music is playing,” he said.
He also revealed to the paper that loud music can make it harder to discern a drink’s alcohol content, which may drive diners to buy more booze, while classical music makes diners spend more than they would listening to pop.
Spence believes certain restaurants are using music to alter diners’ moods – fast food restaurants are known for their high-octane soundtracks, which encourage diners to eat quickly and leave.
The topic of music in restaurants is divisive. Fergus Henderson of St. John has a no music policy at his Farringdon restaurant, and Nigella Lawson believes a thumping soundtrack detracts from the dining experience. “It’s utterly draining and drowns out the taste of the food,” she told The Telegraph.
Stephen Harris meanwhile, who owns and runs The Sportsman in Whitstable, is less extreme in his views than Lawson, but believes the key to a successful restaurant playlist is to pick songs that blend into the background rather than demand to be heard.
“You should keep music as unrecognisable as possible. No modern music, as it’s divisive. We play Delta blues, reggae and ska. These create moods rather than demand your attention. I also like French café music and I want to play Gregorian chants,” Harris told The Telegraph.
A number of venues are tapping into the power of music and take pride in their playlists. Meat Mecca, Black Axe Mangal in Highbury, is known for blasting out heavy metal, while Momofuku in New York has its own Spotify playlist that fans of the restaurant can tune into at home.