Playing classical music in restaurants encourages diners to spend more.Dr Adrian North, Amber Shilcock (of the School of Psychology, University of Leicester) and DavidHargreaves, (University of Surrey Roehampton) (2003)IntroductionResearch on consumer behaviour indicates that retail environments can create certainatmospheres through lighting, decoration, smell etc., and that these can subsequentlyinfluence several aspects of customers’ behaviour. A more limited amount of research hasconsidered the impact of music as one particular atmospheric variable, with several studiesindicating a positive relationship between musical tempo and the speed with whichcustomers shop and eat in restaurants.More recent studies have considered another aspect of music that may influence consumers,namely genre, finding that classical music leads to greater purchase intentions than eitherpop music or no music. Areni and Kim (1993) played classical music and ‘Top 40’ pop musicin a wine cellar. The number of bottles of wine sold did not differ between these twoconditions: However, classical music led to more expensive wine being bought, withcustomers spending a mean of $7.43 compared with $2.18 when ‘Top 40’ music was played.Similarly, North and Hargreaves (1998) played classical music, pop music, easy listeningmusic, and no music in a campus student cafeteria. First, classical music led to a greaterperception of the cafeteria as being ‘up-market’. Second, when customers were asked tostate the maximum sum that they would be prepared to spend on 14 items on sale in thecafeteria, classical music led to purchase intentions that were 20.5% higher than no music,18.8% higher than easy listening music, and 3.7% higher than pop music. In both cases,the authors argued that their results were attributable to classical music activatingassociated mental representations concerning affluence and wealth that primed a relevantbehaviour, namely spending money.AimDue to the limitations of these studies, the following study was conducted to investigate thewider applicability of these findings the present research played classical music, pop music,and no music over 18 evenings in a town centre restaurant.HypothesisThat classical music should lead to customers spending more money than pop music. Theeffect of the no music condition relative to these other two is more difficult to predict.Participants393 customers who ate at a British restaurant (Softley’s restaurant in Market Bosworth)over the course of 18 evenings between February and March 2002 (excluding a smallnumber of customers who ate at the restaurant twice or more during the period of theresearch). The weeks out were chosen to avoid any public or school holidays.The restaurant serves high quality freshly prepared ‘à-la-carte’ food at prices well above themarket average. The restaurant attracts a mainly upper-middle class clientele.
There were approximately equal numbers of males and females and participants were notaware that they were taking part in the investigation.Overall, a total of 141 parties of diners were investigated; 49 parties in the pop music, 44parties in the classical music, and 48 parties in the no music condition.• 142 participants were exposed to the pop music condition,• 120 to the classical music condition, and• 131 to the no music condition.Method1. The research was an independent subjects design.2. An experimenter collected data whilst working as a waitress.3. 2 x 76-minute CDs were prepared for each music condition, so that no single piece ofmusic was repeated for any single customer. (The classical music condition containedwell-known pieces (e.g. Vivaldi’s Four seasons, Handel’s Water music, Strauss’ Emperorwaltz), and the pop music condition contained well known pieces from the 1980s topresent day (e.g. Britney Spears’ Crazy, Culture Club’s Karma chameleon, and RickyMartin’s Living la vida loca)).4. The music was played at a constant volume on a continuous random program.5. Each condition lasted for six nights and was counterbalanced by day of week and week.6. There was no difference between the tempo of the music in the two conditions.7. All other aspects of the restaurant, such as lighting, decoration, temperature, and menuwere held constant throughout the research.8. The dependent variables were spending on starters, main courses, desserts, coffee, bardrinks, wine, total amount spent on food, total amount spent on drinks, and total overallspend. Measures were also taken of the amount of time elapsing between the partybeing seated and paying their bill, since this represents an obvious confound oncustomer spending.9. Each party of diners contributed one data point for each of these variables, with thevalues calculated by dividing spending by each party within each category by thenumber of people in that party.Results: Table 2: Means by music conditionVariable/(£) Classical music Pop music No musicTotal(average)Starters 4.917 4.038 3.930 4.275Main course 14.720 14.519 14.487 14.571Dessert 3.424 2.554 2.746 2.892Coffee 1.068 0.802 0.535 0.793Bar 3.510 3.060 2.981 3.174Wine 4.875 4.489 5.054 4.802
Total drink 8.385 7.550 8.035 7.975Total food 24.130 21.912 21.697 22.531Total spend 32.515 29.462 29.732 30.507There was an overall significant difference between the conditions, with classical musicleading to higher spending than both no music and pop music on mean spend per head onstarters, coffee, total spend on food and overall spend.1. When classical music was played in the background, diners spent an average of morethan £24 per head on food and drinks,2. When pop music was played, less than £22 was spent by each diner,3. When no background music existed, spending fell to £21.70 per head.In the same test, diners were spending more than £1 each on coffee with classical music,compared to only 80p with pop music and 54p without any background noise.ExplanationThese findings were consistent with the limited previous research, using a sample of thegeneral public purchasing from a range of items in a naturalistic research environmentindicating that the playing of background classical music led toa) people reporting that they were prepared to spend moreb) higher actual spending.Since the present findings represent the 3rdinstance in which classical music has beenobserved to increase spending intentions, this raises the question of why it is so effective.There are at least three possible explanations.1. The classical music was synergistic with other aspects of the restaurant’s atmosphere andthat this synergy promoted spending. (Even though North and Hargreaves (1998) foundthat classical music increased spending in a student cafeteria, in which classical music wasnot synergistic with other atmospheric variables).2. That classical music was simply preferred by the participants and some form of transfereffect meant that liking for the music fed through into increased spending. Unfortunately,none of the research provided data on customers’ musical preferences, so musicalpreference remains a possible explanation (although it seems less plausible that studentparticipants would have preferred classical over pop music).3. That classical music promotes an ‘up-market’ atmosphere, and that this primescontextually-appropriate congruent behaviour, namely increased purchase intentions.Though the restaurant management decided that customers could not be approached with ashort questionnaire investigating their perception of the restaurant atmosphere, North andHargreaves (1998) did provide data directly showing that classical music led to theircafeteria being perceived as more ‘up-market’ than did other musical styles (including pop),making this remains an appealing explanation of the present results.
Indeed the two courses that gave rise to significant differences between the conditions,namely starters and coffee, are optional items at the beginning and end of the meal. It istempting to speculate that the diners in the classical music condition decided to treatthemselves by spending more on these parts of their meal. Indeed, informal commentsmade by customers to the experimenter in the restaurant indicated further that classicalmusic promoted a more ‘up-market’ perception.Disentangling these three possible explanations will undoubtedly require laboratory researchthat sacrifices the ecological validity of field studies for more robust experimental designsthat allow competing explanations to be tested against one another.Evaluation of MethodEvaluation of ExplanationUsefulness1. The results indicate that restaurant managers can use classical music to increasecustomer spending have obvious commercial implications for commercial practice; it ispossible to utilise background music to increase customer spending.2. The results presented here also provide undoubted scope for further research usingdifferent locations where different musical styles might have different effects on differentclientele.