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Can listening to the right music inspire you to enjoy your evening tipple more? According to a study from the psychology team at Heriot-Watt University, happy hour tunes do have an effect on your enjoyment of that cab sav (as does, we would argue, the happy hour price!).
W42ST conducted its own slightly more informal research study by chatting with Hell’s Kitchen restaurateurs and wine store proprietors to see if they noticed a correlation between their playlists and their patrons’ beverages of choice.
Said Robert Guarino, the co-owner of French brasserie Marseille, 5 Napkin Burger, and Italian favorite Nizza of the findings: “I’m not surprised that this study showed the dramatic impact of music on our appreciation of wine. Great food and wine are such transformative experiences, precisely because they engage all five of our senses. And of course, food and wine are both better enjoyed in the rich atmosphere of a beautiful restaurant with great music playing. There is nowhere I would rather be than at Marseille eating oysters, drinking muscadet and listening to Serge Gainsbourg. All three are great on their own, but together truly magic!”
But although it was agreed that music is vital to the curation of drinking ambiance, does it correlate with the type of wine or liquor ordered? “Having not conducted the exercise myself, it felt very specific,” said Jeremy Kaplan of Hell’s Kitchen mainstay Veritas Studio Wines. At Veritas, they curate their playlists beyond the usual expectation of wine store jazz: “We’ll pick music that is a surprise to the customers — we’ll play Bollywood or Norteña or WuTang, whatever it is, it’s a surprise. We had a patron that said, ‘This is the first time I’ve heard the Sex Pistols in a wine shop.’ We don’t sell standard fare, and the music tends to fall in line with that,” said Kaplan. “We want to play music that makes people feel good — throwback rap, throwback rock, we play music that relaxes people and gives them the space to browse. It’s to each their own, just like wine.”
Several of our respondents noticed strong correlations between time of day and weather with beverage choices. “It’s something that we don’t really think about in restaurants that much, except that you’ll hear music at a certain time of day and be like, ‘This isn’t the right music for right now,’” said Charlie Marshall of farm-to-table restaurant The Marshal. “We want Ella Fitzgerald for brunch because she’s uplifting and she’s a little casual and that’s what brunch is. At dinner you want something that’s a little more alternative and background — that song you think you’ve heard a thousand times, but you’ve really never heard, so you can’t sing along to it, but it just fits right in,” he added.
“I noticed the study talked about how intense music makes people drink cabernet, which I can totally see, but in all honesty I’m never like, ‘I’m taking this glass of wine to table 10 and I really hope they like this cab, so I’m gonna put on some Beethoven!’” he laughed.
Both Marshall and Brian Keyser of Casellula wine and cheese bar agreed that seasonality was top of mind for patrons choosing a drink. “When it’s cold and rainy or snowy, people are drinking hot cocktails and red wine and scotch and whiskey,” said Marshall.
“When it’s sunny and nice and warm people are drinking champagne and white wine and Aperols and fruity cocktails — it’s always been more about the weather,” he added.
Keyser agreed: “Maybe it’s something to keep in mind seasonally – stronger, more powerful music in the winter when more people are drinking reds, and zippier music in the summer when white is the more popular choice, to bring the most enjoyment to the most people.”
He added, “I’ve always said, if you pick a cheese you like and a wine you like and listen to music you like you will be happy with them all. This research will make me reconsider that. I wonder if I could move particular wines by playing music that matched them — upbeat music to push the Riesling?”
Mandy Oser of Ardesia Wine Bar wasn’t surprised by the effect of music on consumption either. “When I first read it, my instinct was, ‘Oh, this completely makes sense.’ I think that the music definitely influences the mood and therefore must influence behavior and consumption,” she said. “I think in our setting, one thing we’ve always done is empowered the staff who are working to set the tone and infuse their personal style into the music. We have a late night playlist, a closing playlist, and a Friday night playlist and I think it absolutely influences the tone of the night. It’s all about atmosphere and creating a mood and making it a place that people want to hang out. So I think the back end of that, of course music is related to consumption, it’s all linked.”
Oser added that for Ardesia, visual marketing is just as important in patron drink orders, noting: “For us and for a lot of people right now — social media, specifically Instagram, is probably the number one place we’ll see a correlation between what we advertise and what people order. If we post something new, we’ll often have regulars that come in and say, ‘Hey, I saw this — I and now I’m really curious about this new wine you mentioned on Instagram,’ It’s almost shocking to me how strong that specific link can be,” she said, even noticing the power of visual influencing in her own consumer habits.“I think about my own behavior — I’ll see something online first and it’ll drive me in somewhere. I think making things visual, especially with wine, makes things digestible and approachable, which are always our keywords.”
In the Heriot-Watt study, 250 adults were given a glass of cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay to enjoy in one of five rooms playing different genres of music (or no music at all) on a continuous loop. After being instructed to sip their vino sans conversation, study participants articulated their wine’s taste profile.
Researchers led by Dr Adrian C North found that respondents’ tasting notes changed as much as 60% dependent on the melody played while sipping. The effects of musical accompaniment were stronger on red wines than white, with powerful and intense tunes influencing users to describe the wine as more powerful and intense, and zingy, refreshing music motivating drinkers to identify their white wines as analogously zingy and refreshing.
After reading the study, Oser and several local proprietors were ready to conduct research of their own. “I feel like it’ll be fun to experiment,” said Oser. “I love the correlation between heavier music and Cabernet consumption. Maybe we’re not specifically programming all of our music to try to get everyone to have Cabernet all the time, But I do think it would be fun to experiment.”
She continued: “How many glasses did they have on Tuesday when we played jazz? How many glasses did they have when we had our 80s playlist on? I think that would be fun — really drilling down on the genre. Some nights we do like a lot of old school soul, and then some nights it’s super poppy, like Miley Cyrus and that kind of stuff. Does that make people wanna drink rosé? Does it make them want to have cosmos? I think what all of this reinforces is the importance of continuing to create an atmosphere.”