Music for Restaurants: the Concept of Musical Fit

Music for restaurants and Musical Fit

The human mind, to recognize and appreciate something, takes in information through predefined structures. Our way of understanding the world around us is possible thanks to preexisting categories in our brains.

In music, as in literature, we look to every value to classify each track or work within a musical genre or a determined trend. How many times have we heard people say: I like pop music and I read nineteenth-century classics? This is a casual pairing that I chose, to which the response may have been: never.

Who in their right mind would compare pop music to an Oscar Wilde novel?

In any case, De gustibus.

But it is not the relationship between pop music and the nineteenth century that I’d like to explore as much as the degree of adaptability of a musical track or a commercial (borrowing from the genre) or a playlist for a restaurant.

Musical Fit: definition

In Wilson’s previously published research on the effect of musica for restaurants  he cites the concept of “Musical Fit” which I will try to analyze thanks to the support of other theories and psychological models.

The rather recent concept refers to the correspondence between the properties of a product, the characteristics of a restaurant and the musical situation associated with it, with the goal of influencing consumers’ choices.

Musical Fit and Gestalt Psychology

Let’s proceed by degrees:

  • Gestalt is a German word that means “form” and includes the concept of creativity.
  • According to Wertheimer, the experiences that we humans are aware of are provided by perceptions of everything, which are surely different from the singular meanings our brains would attribute to individual experiences.

If, by chance, while we are at a restaurant or in a bookstore, we hear a song that we already know, it will call to mind memories, emotions, and sensations that will change our way of acting in that given context.

Musical Fit and Kotler’s Model

Kotler places the attention on:

the importance of the atmosphere on influencing purchasing behavior in consumers.

And what is one of the fundamental, indispensable variables in the creation of the atmosphere, I would venture to guess? Music.

Wilson says:

“The extreme difference is revealed between the conditions of absence of music and the five musical styles.”

To borrow from the musical genre, which will certainly require further analysis, music helps to create a positive atmosphere, useful for boosting sales and the brand image.

It is all scientifically proven.

Kotler’s Model

Having cemented the importance of music, let’s return to what Kotler affirms regarding the atmosphere in a commercial business:

  • it generates attention, placing the focus on differentiating oneself from competitors;
  • it conveys a message (if studied) that serves as a mouthpiece for the restaurant’s values;
  • it acts on a subconscious level and (if well structured) contributes to increased sales.

The parentheses are not, however, to be overlooked. To the contrary.

Let’s discuss the adaptability of music because the track, or the playlist, to be effective must convey values in line with the style of the restaurant and the image that the owners wish to convey about their activity

Musical Fit in practice

I believe we have arrived at the moment to show you an ad that I played during the focus groups I held for my thesis research in England.

Here, I riformulate the idea of Musical Fit elaborated on by MacInnis and Park (1991) to then leave you with the video and a phrase from the song (which you will hear).

“…when music is in line with the message that the advertisement or product wants to communicate, it creates a better condition for engagement. When different elements coincide, we create a unified image that emerges from the jungle of possible meanings…”


Soundtrack: Fleetwood Mac – Everywhere – a track that’s well known in England for the success it earned in 1988. This track sparks positive emotions in many listeners.

Slogan: Silly stuff matters – Keep on internetting


Can you hear me calling

Out your name

You know that I’m falling

And I don’t know what to say

…Oh I…

I want to be with you everywhere

Info: As we all know, the Three is a noted phone company who  this ad in the UK at Christmas time in 2013.

In less than a week, it had over 2 million views on YouTube and earned the public’s approval.

Did the pony made Brits laugh with its moonwalking alone, or through the winning combination of ideas, images, and emotions conveyed through music?

I would choose the latter.

Try to to watch the video again without audio.

If it doesn’t work for a 1-minute and 10-second video, do you think it will work for a playlist that lasts hours in your restaurant, hotel, or spa?

Try it to believe it.

Stefania Palumbo

Sources: Atmospherics as a marketing Tool, P.Kotler 1973 Gestalt Psychology  horse-gets-over-a-million-YouTube-hits