Background music boosts bar sales

At a certain point in the evening it is customary for bar and pub proprietors to turn the lights down and the music up.

It is a commonly-held industry belief that changing the lighting and sound creates a better atmosphere for drinking. However, empirical evidence from several research studies has found that higher music volumes directly results in customers drinking more and provides support for landlords’ actions.

Professor Nicolas Gueguen led a study team in France (2008) that observed customers’ drinking habits in two bars across three Saturday nights. During the study the background music volume was changed between a normal level of 72dB and a significantly louder setting of 88dB. During periods when the background music was played at 88dB customers took an average of 11.5 minutes to finish a 250ml (80z) glass of draught beer compared to 14.5 minutes when music was played at the standard volume of 72dB. Calculated against the duration of stay for all participating customers it was found that each customer ordered on average one more drink when the louder background music was played.

One should point out that the only dependent variable measured in this study was the number of drinks ordered and there may therefore have been an impact on other variables.

However, the findings from the Gueguen study are consistent with previous academic studies that have linked structural components of music (e.g. tempo, volume, tonality) with consumer behaviour. In ‘Fast music causes fast drinking’ Perceptual and Motor Skills, 75,362 (1992), H. McElrea and L. Standing found that fast music leads to people drinking a can of soda 39% faster than with slower music.

These results are typically explained by drawing on the notion of “arousal” induced by a particular structural element such as tempo and/or volume. According to Dr Neil Todd, lecturer in Life Sciences at The University of Manchester, this state of arousal is due to stimulation of the inner ear; specifically a small part called the sacculus that was possibly part of a more primitive hearing solution that has been lost as we have evolved. It only responds to music over a certain volume (85-90dB) and Todd claims it is connected to the part of the brain responsible for hunger, pleasure, and sex drives.

The commercial implication of these findings is reasonably clear – background music if used responsibly can be used to influence behaviour and in the case of pub, bar, and club proprietors to increase sales. Of course it is essential to ensure that the type of background music selected is appropriate for the clientele. 

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