The Effects of Music on Our Dining Experience

Steve Rees Effects of Music Posts
A Placesetting Set for Dinner

In researching the various effects of music on various aspects of our lives, I have come across several articles about how music enhances our dining experience. Several different research projects have been performed over the last decades with varying results, but one thing comes into focus out of all of them that I have looked at; there is a definite positive effect of music, especially slower classical style, on the dining experience in a restaurant. I am including this article as a sample to show this effect and to support what I observe regularly as I play the harp in the dining setting as well as the market setting. I regularly note that people seem to slow down and visit more and have more pleasant comments and experiences. I have had many comment to me of how much of a difference it made in their day to have me playing in the background. I am convinced that the harp music is yet again proved to be beneficial in this setting as well as many others.

The Effects of Background Music on Level of Conversation in an Eating Establishment

Stephenie C. Doss | Missouri Western State College December 5, 1995


A study was conducted in the cafeteria of a Midwestern college to determine if the type of music played influences the level of conversation among patrons. Three types of music with different styles, perceived loudness, and beats were used for this study. The different types of music were presented to the patrons over a public address system instead of the radio station usually heard. Three readings were then taken in ten minute intervals to measure the decibel level of conversation among the subjects in the cafeteria. A significant difference was found between the different types of music and the levels of conversation associated with each type of music.


The effect of music on behavior is a topic that has received much attention. There have been studies done to determine what effects it has on different behaviors under different conditions. A review of the literature shows that this area of interest has been the subject of research for over four decades. The earlier studies focused on the effectiveness of music in the psychiatric hospital setting (Sommer, 1957) and on group psychotherapy (Dollins, 1956). Both of these experiments showed a significant increase in verbal interaction with background music present.

Bonny, Cistrick, Makuch, Stevens, and Tally (1965) used the same idea, but placed in a more social setting when they studied the effects of music on verbal interaction among groups of college students in structured class settings. However, their findings did not show a significant increase in verbal interaction. There were many recommendations that came from this study that would increase the likelihood of finding a significant interaction in a similar study. The suggestions included an extended time for gathering data, an altered to design to allow for the effects on groups of varying sizes, a more efficient means of classification for measuring interactions, and a recategorization of music to allow for criteria other than “sedative” and “stimulative” music, as was restricted in their study.

In 1984, Stratton and Zalanowski also conducted a study using college students in large groups and two set types of background music: “soothing” and “stimulating”. The results of this study showed that the “soothing” music affected an increase in verbal interaction, thus supporting the hypothesis that music does have an effect on behavior. The experimenters were able to apply the findings by postulating that the “soothing” music helped the group to better focus on the task at hand and increase their functioning, which included verbal interaction.

In the latter half of the 1980s, the focus shifted to the effect background music had on consumer behavior. Foremost among these behaviors were those that involved food. Roballey (1985) studied the effects of music on eating behaviors. This study was conducted in the cafeteria of a university and utilized 11 subjects from the school, who were not aware of the study as it was conducted. It was found that the presence of background music significantly increased the average number of bites taken per minute, which again supports the hypothesis that music affects behavior.

One of the foremost names in the research of the effects of music on behavior is Ronald Milliman. His study in 1986 looked at the effects of background music on the behavior of restaurant patrons. He broke the different behaviors down to approach or avoidance behaviors. Verbal interaction was listed as an approach behavior. His conclusions showed that slower music increased the rate of approach behaviors, thus resulting in an increase in verbal interaction.

Most of the studies on music and behavior have involved humans, but Peretti and Kippschull (1991) studied the effects of different types of music on the social behaviors of mice. This study utilized a wide range of music types: from classical music on one end of the spectrum, encompassing country, blues, jazz, and easy listening, and finally with hard rock at the other end of the list. Once again, the results of the study supported the supposition that music has definite effects on behavior. All types of music showed to have some significant effect on an aspect of social behavior in mice. The studies done to determine the effect of music on behavior encompass many different designs, subjects, group sizes, types of music and settings.

The purpose of this study is to verify a link between the type of background music played in an eating establishment and the volume of conversation among the patrons. This study will show that music with a faster beat and a þlouderþ sound will result in a rise in the level of conversation among the subjects, with the other two types of music, which will have slower tempos and þquieterþ sounds, will affect a drop in the level of conversation. This link is particularly useful to business owners wishing to create a more relaxed and profitable atmosphere for their customers.



The subjects for this study were students, faculty, and staff who utilize the services of the campus cafeteria at Missouri Western State College. More specifically, they are people who are present between 11:00 and 11:30 on weekdays. These subjects cover a wide range of demographics. They include both males and females, subjects of varying age, race, and ethnic backgrounds, as well as subjects with different types of music preferences.


The materials used in this study include the public address system located in the cafeteria office, a portable stereo, a microphone, three cassette tapes of hard rock music, country music, and classical music, and a sound pressure level reader that reads decibel levels from 0dB to 120dB. The tapes used to represent the three different music types were Danzig, for hard rock; Clay Walker, for country music; and a collection of classical songs, for classical music.


The procedure of this study involved presenting the subjects with a 30 minute session of music over the public address system. This music differed from the music usually played in cafeteria in that these are three isolated types of music, as opposed to varying radio stations usually played by the cafeteria staff. Each of the three tapes, representing a different type of music, were randomly assigned to played each day at 11:00 in the morning each weekday for three weeks. The music was played on a portable stereo at a constant level of loudness, as controlled on the public address system. A reading was taken on the sound level pressure reader in 10 minute intervals to record the level of conversation among the subjects in the cafeteria. The music was then set back to the radio station that was playing before the set time of 11:00. The experimenter was seated at the back center of the cafeteria, and attempted to be as unobtrusive as possible. It was planned that the subjects will be unaware of the readings being taken, with only the cafeteria staff and management being aware of the study, however, a few of the staff members did tell some students about the study. This indiscretion seemed to have no effect on the students reactions to the music played.


The results of this study showed a direct link between the type of background music being played and the level of conversation among the cafeteria patrons. The hard rock music resulted in a louder mean decibel reading (71.78 Db) for the level of conversation. The next higher level of conversation was linked with country music (66.78dB), and classical music resulted in the lowest mean decibel reading (63.11dB). These means support the hypothesis that faster paced music with a þlouderþ sound causes an increase in the level of conversation among patrons in an eating establishment.

A Oneway ANOVA was conducted on the data, resulting in a significant difference between the decibel readings taken on each type of music (F(2,51)=53.96,p<.05.) A Tukeys HSD test showed that the significant differences occurred between country music and classical music and differences between hard rock music and both classical music and country music.


Since an analysis on the data showed a significant difference between the levels of conversation read for each type of data, the hypothesis of this study was supported. This study did indeed show a link between the type of background music played and the level of conversation among the subjects. The results of this study agree with and support other studies that reported increases in verbal interaction when more “stimulating” music was presented (Sommer, 1957; Dollins, 1956). This study does not agree with other studies showing an increase in verbal interaction in subjects exposed to “soothing” music (Bonny, et al, 1965; Stratton & Zalanowsi, 1984) however, this discrepancy may be attributed to the differences in setting. Many of these studies which disagree were done in a hospital setting, where the aim was to relax the patients enough to engage in verbal interaction. Milliman (1986) showed an increase in approach behaviors among restaurant patrons under the influence of “soothing” music, however, his study was not aimed exclusively towards conversation levels, and therefore had different criteria for measuring verbal interaction.

The results of this study can be useful to people in the restaurant business to help create an atmosphere that most benefit profit increase. Further studies done in this area would also be useful if done in different types of restaurants, so to better gauge the study to the pre-existing atmosphere of the establishment. Other studies would also be better served if readings could be taken at varying times of the day, thus controlling for differing moods of the patrons that may arise because of time constraints, etc. It would also be beneficial to conduct this study on weekends to include a wider range of subjects, including children and family groups. A study incorporating each of these suggestions cold conceivably produce results that would prove to be very beneficial to the field of consumer psychology.


Bonny, H.L., Cistrunk, M., Makuch, R., Stevens, E., & Tally, J. (1965). Some effects of music on verbal interaction in groups. Journal of Music Therapy, 2, 61-63. Dollins, C.N. (1956). The use of background music in a psychiatric hospital to increase group conversational frequency. Music Therapy, 6, 229-230. Milliman, R.E. (1986). The influence of background music on the behaviors of restaurant patrons. Journal of Consumer Research, 13, 286-289. Peretti, P.O., & Kippschull, H. (1991). Influence of five types of music on social behaviors of mice. Indian Journal of Behavior, 15, 51-58. Roballey, T.C. (1985). The effect of music on eating behavior. Bulletin of The Psychonomic Society, 23, 221-222. Sommer, D.T. (1957). The effect of background music on frequency of interaction in group psychotherapy. Music Therapy, 7, 167-168. Stratton, V.N., & Zalanowski, A. (1984). The effect of background music on verbal interaction in groups. Journal of Music Therapy, 21, 16-26.