How to Choose the Perfect Fast-Food Soundtrack

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Fast food is usually associated with convenience. We walk in, we get what we want, and we walk out.

But fast-food restaurants don't have to be spaces consumers want to drive through rather than spend time in. With a few subtle shifts, fast-food joints can become destination spots that allow consumers to enjoy their stay. Music can play a big role in this enhanced experience.

Music & Consumer Behavior: What the Research Says

Plenty of research has been done on the interaction between music and time spent in a fast-food restaurant. Reading through these studies can help you understand what typical customers might think about the songs you play.

In one study of music in ethnic restaurants, researchers collected 346 responses in a survey. They asked about how people felt about the music they heard while they were eating in these facilities. They found that a match between a restaurant’s theme and the music played made the food seem more authentic—and the people liked the food more as a result. If your fast-food joint serves ethnic foods, you may need music that matches.

In another study of music and food intake, researchers gathered data from several published studies and aggregated the results. They found that any kind of music was positively related to food intake, meaning that people tend to eat and drink more when music is available. They didn’t find any stronger effect with one type of music.

In a third study, researchers combined the data from three other published studies. They found that fast music was more effective than slow music in encouraging people to like their food. When the beats were faster, people said they liked what they were eating even more.

Music & Your Menu

All business owners know that pleasing customers is a top priority. When customers are satisfied, they come back for more. They may also tell others about their experience, which helps a brand to grow.

Music can help fast-food restaurants give their consumers that happy experience. For example, in 2012, researchers performed a makeover of a fast-food restaurant and filled it with softer music and reduced lighting. Those subtle shifts allowed people to eat 175 fewer calories, and they enjoyed it more.

This is a small study, and your results can vary. However, this study suggests that the right music could make your food taste even better.

Your music could also help to explain your brand. If you focus on serving Tex-Mex food, playing a Latin-infused playlist could boost cravings for the foods you serve. If you serve American meat-and-potatoes meals, playing country music could have the same effect.

Matching the music you play with the food you serve helps to explain your brand and enhance the experience for your customers.

Can You Choose Music?

In 2022, an estimated 192,057 quick-service franchise restaurants were located in the United States. Places in this category include fast-food restaurants, ice cream parlors, carryout sandwich shops, and donut joints.

When you purchase a franchise, you're purchasing a proven concept that has resonated with consumers. According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers who buy a franchise are typically not allowed to make decisions about your facility’s experience. The franchise may impose strict rules that are designed to ensure a uniform look and feel among all of the outlets.

As a buyer, you should be provided with a contract that details what you can and can’t do. Read this carefully, and look for rules about the sound. You may find that you’re not allowed to play all of the music you want to play.

While you can’t change the music, you can ensure that your staff provides the best food and the best service possible within those constraints. Your hard work could help your location to stand out, even if everything in the shop looks and sounds the same.

What Should You Play?

If you own your own fast-food restaurant, you can play any kind of music you'd like to play. That's the good news, but there are literally hundreds of different types of songs you could play for your guests. You'll need to choose carefully.

Looking for a specific type of consumer who eats fast food isn't helpful, as research from Ohio State suggests that 80 percent of Americans eat fast food. That means nearly all Americans eat in this food sector, so you won't be able to make broad generalizations about who your consumers are, how much money they have, or what they like to listen to.

You’ll need to reflect a bit on what kind of music is right for your establishment.

How to Select Music

Following a few basic steps can help you find just the right music for your brand. Here’s what to do:

1. Consider What You Serve.

Focus on the foods you serve and look for ways to match music with the food. If you were about to serve these foods to friends and family members, what kinds of music would you play? What songs would they expect? What seems like a match?

In one study, researchers conducted two experiments to match song type with the music played. Here’s a sample of what they found:

  • Jazz and classical music were tied to savory foods (like vegetable sandwiches).
  • Rock, metal, hip-hop, and jazz were tied to savory foods (like beef sandwiches).
  • Classical music was tied to sweet foods (like chocolate).

2. Think About the Experience

Think about the emotions you want your customers to feel when they walk in the door of your fast-food restaurant. Upbeat, happy music will encourage positive, fun feelings, whereas slower, more melancholy tunes will cause them to slow down and maybe even feel sad.

3. Understand Your Audience

Since many families likely frequent your establishment, it’s a good idea to make sure all your music is family-friendly, free of curse words and harsh language. Oftentimes, pop music or light rock can be good choices.

4. Match Music to Your Brand

Ultimately, think about the core of your brand, and that’s where you’ll start to define your audio identity. Do your logo and branding support a fun, festive environment? Then, upbeat music is your go-to. Does your restaurant feel hip and cutting-edge? Then, EDM might be a good choice.

5. Determine the Pacing

You can also choose to subtly switch your soundtrack at different times of the day. You might opt for up-tempo, high-energy music midday and switch to a more relaxed soundtrack at night.

Why Some Fast-Food Restaurants Switch to Classical Music at Night

Some fast-food restaurants switch over to classical music at night to promote a calmer, more relaxed atmosphere late in the evening. This helps to calm customers, reducing instances of rowdy behavior.

This is particularly important since fast-food restaurants are often visited after bars close. Late-night or early-morning revelers who have been imbibing alcohol all evening are more likely to engage in raucous behavior, and this puts employees, customers, and the establishment itself at risk.

Some business owners feel that the switch to classical music results in fewer problematic instances. The power of music is strong, so it’s possible that the more refined feel of classical music does affect patrons in this manner. It’s worth giving it a try in your fast-food joint.

Make Sure You Have the Proper Licensing

It's vital to play music you have a license to play. Music is protected by American copyright laws, and that means you must connect with the copyright holder of that song and pay a fee when the song is played.

You can't simply plug in your phone to fill the space with music. You must have a license to play those tunes.

Working with a company like Pandora CloudCover is smart.

We have connections with music copyright holders, and we negotiate the fees for you. We can provide you with no-risk music you can play to entice your customers, and we offer low fees for the protections you need. It takes just minutes to sign up and get started.


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Franchising in America: Not Just Fast-Food Restaurants. (March 2018). United States Census Bureau.

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We All Want Fries With That: Debunking Myths About Fast Food. (August 2017). Ohio State Insights.

11 Questions About Music Licensing. National Restaurant Association.

Audio Branding: Have You Found Your Sound? (August 2018). Medium.

What Does Your Brand Sound Like? (February 2014). Harvard Business Review.

This Is Why Fast Food Restaurants Play Classical Music at Night. (July 2017). Classic FM.

Exploring the Impact of Background Music on Customers’ Perceptions of Ethnic Restaurants: The Moderating Role of Dining Companions. (June 2020). Journal of Hospitality of Tourism Management.

The Relationship Between Music and Food Intake: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. (June 2021). Nutrients.

Background Music Tempo Effects on Food Evaluations and Purchase Intentions. (November 2021). Journal of Retailing and Customer Service.

Is Classical Music Sweeter than Jazz? Crossmodal Influences of Background Music and Taste on Healthy and Indulgent Food Preferences. (March 2022). Food Quality and Preference.

A Consumer’s Guide to Buying a Franchise. Federal Trade Commission.

Number of Quick Service Restaurant Franchise Establishments in the United States from 2007 to 2022. (August 2023). Statista.

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