Sound and Vision - Ashdale Business Consulting

Sound and Vision


After a three months absence due to Covid-19 restrictions the Premier League returned in June 2020, albeit under very different circumstances.  Games were permitted to be played but effectively behind closed doors with only those deemed to be essential allowed in the stadiums.  While the majority of games were being televised it was obvious to all, that the lack of a crowd would significantly diminish the overall experience for the viewing public.

As a result TV companies gave viewers the option to watch matches with bespoke artificial noise, known as ‘EA Sports Atmospheric Audio’ tailored to each specific match.

This just goes to confirm that it’s not just the actual football being played which is important but also all the associated environmental factors which ultimately come together to create the overall experience.

The same can also be said for pubs, bars and restaurants.  In some surveys customers will rank ambience as the third most important factor when eating out, right behind food and service.  I have even seen another poll which found that atmosphere can be even more important than food.

So my question is Do operators pay enough attention to getting the sound and lighting right in their venues?


The sound of silence…

Tim Martin, JD Wetherspoon’s owner apparently decided that he wouldn’t have any music played in his pubs after reading an article by George Orwell who claimed that the perfect pub should be free from any background music.  And whilst that might resonate with some customers it ignores a number of key roles that providing a sound track can have on the atmosphere that an outlet has.

The reality is that noise levels particularly in restaurants, less so in pubs and bars can be a real problem.  No one wants their experience drowned out by the sound of servers setting down or picking up plates from other tables.  The sound of chairs scraping the floor as customers sit down or leave along with overly enthusiastic larger parties having animated conversations means that the level of noise in some restaurants can be almost unbearable.  An appropriate amount of background music can therefore dampen down the impact that these noises have.

As with lighting, music can help create the right atmosphere for an outlet.  For example the restaurant chain Frankie & Bennys used songs from the1950s and 1960s to create a feeling of an old fashioned New York style dinner.  Pizza Express even have a section on their website “The music playing in our restaurants is carefully selected to enhance your experience…..We’re more than just great pizza, we love great music too”.

Even more interestingly studies have shown that the type of background music you use can influence the amount of time and money that customers will spend.  It can help reduce anxiety, improve people’s moods as well as reduce stress levels.

Looking across a range of studies on the subject the following broad conclusions can be drawn.  The slower the tempo of the music being used the longer customers tended to stay at their tables.  This was a combination of taking longer to decide what to order as well as taking longer to eat their meals.  The faster the tempo of music the more likely it is that customer will opt for dishes such as steaks and burgers as against salads or healthier options.  So depending on your offer you can see how this can have an impact on your bottom-line.

Having said all of this, what you must avoid is to have background music which is either inappropriate for your offer or even worse too loud.  Remember if customers can’t hear the people they are with they are unlikely to make a return visit.  Also the music is there to help create and support the overall ambience of the outlet; it is not there for the benefit of the staff.  Less so in restaurants but too often I visited pubs and bars where the choice of what gets played over the sound system seems to depend on who is working that shift.


Blinded by the light…

While pubs, bars and restaurants may spend huge amounts of time and money on developing their offer, sometimes it can be the simplest things which are overlooked.  I often find that lighting comes into this category.  The fact is that using light is an immediate way to create a particular mood as well as completely changing the way an outlet may look or feel.  When it comes to lighting there are three main types to consider.

The first of these is task or functional lighting.  This is used to appropriately illuminate an area in order for the activities which take place there to be carried out.  So typically a kitchen would have quite bright clear lighting as would bathrooms coat check areas.

The next and probably most important type of lighting is ambient.  It is this which sets the overall tone and mood of the pub, bar or restaurant.  For example while bright, white, industrial-style lighting might be appropriate for some fast casual dining concepts in other instances a darker more moody lighting scheme may better match the overall offer.

It’s also worth mentioned that the lighting doesn’t and indeed probably shouldn’t be kept the same during different parts of the day.  Typically brighter lighting should be used for meals served earlier in the day especially for breakfast when customers need bright light to wake up, ready newspapers or check their phones.  With natural light being the ideal source for this.  As the day progresses more moderate lighting can be used however it is recognised that higher lighting levels are very good for fast food restaurants, they can even help promote faster turnover rates.  Outlets which do the majority of their business in the evening tend to go for a more relaxing atmosphere which invariably tends to lead to lower brightness levels.

The third type to consider is accent lighting.  This helps draw attention to specific features or areas of the venue and can be quite dramatic.  This is often used to highlight menu boards or in more style based outlets it is used to draw customers focus towards pieces of artwork or unique décor or furnishings.


Saturday’s aright for…

As already mentioned there good reasons why operators should think about changing the lighting and sound depending on what time of day it is but it shouldn’t just stop there.  As well as having different types of guests across the course of any given day, many outlets also see a very different customer profile during the week compared to weekends.  It is therefore important that this difference in who visits you on the different days of the week is also reflected in the way that your sound and lighting is.  By doing this you can maximise the positive impact that this will have on your customers.