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 & 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 a study in the journal Psychological Reports, scientists found that softening the music in a fast-food restaurant prompted consumers to rate the food as more enjoyable.

That subtle change in the soundtrack made the food taste just a little better. That could entice these consumers to come back to explore the menu again.

When the researchers who performed this study were asked about the results, in an article in Medical Xpress, they explained that the people in this study also ate 18 percent less of the food they ordered when the music was softer. That could, the researchers said, help fast-food restaurants to overcome a consistent brand problem.

People associate fast food with high-fat, high-calorie meals that contribute to obesity. Restaurants like this are often accused of prompting consumers to eat more, so they can boost profits.

Softening the music, and explaining why you're doing so, could help your brand to seem empathetic. It can show you really care about your customers, and that could set your brand apart.

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?

The United States Census Bureau reports that there were an estimated 122,042 limited-service franchise restaurants in 2012, making this the largest franchise segment in the United States.

When you purchase a franchise, you're purchasing a proven concept that has resonated with consumers. You're typically not allowed to take this existing brand and make it your own by changing:

  • Logos
  • Internal décor
  • Menu choices
  • Employee uniforms

You may also be unable to change the music. When your organization makes a decision for the brand, it is your responsibility to play along.

There may be times when it's wise to reach out to the corporate office with your ideas about how to change music choices. For example, Franchise Direct reports that some fast-food organizations are going through a brand refresh to help them connect to a changing market.

Taco Bell, for example, is refreshing its restaurant design to highlight a commitment to sustainability and environmental action. Enhancing that refresh with music that comes from eco-minded artists, or moving from classic rock to a more modern sound, could help them to reinforce that brand shift.

Good ideas come from everywhere, and you may have just the playlist shift the top managers need to know about in order to move forward with the business.

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.

Finding Your Audio Identity

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?

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.

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.

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.

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 Cloud Cover Music 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.


Fast Food Restaurant Lighting and Music can Reduce Calorie Intake and Increase Satisfaction. (August 2012). Medical Xpress.

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

Food Franchise Industry Report 2016. (July 2016). Franchise Direct.

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.

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