Music is on the menu.

Sound can be much more than noise – it can make you think differently, act a certain way… and now, even make your tastebuds flourish. Brands have realised they can’t ignore the impact sound has and what it can do to their consumer, so have started to focus on utilising sound to build their image and improve the user experience.

In the food industry, we are seeing an increasing number of restaurants and eateries experimenting with using sound to benefit their customer. Many have cleverly chosen specific sounds to accompany certain dishes – resulting in a more complete sensory experience.

But how do we know sound can be so influential? In 2001, researchers showed two shapes – one spikey, one with round edges – to two groups. Group one – American college students; group two – Tamil speakers in India. The researchers asked the groups which shape was named ‘kiki’ and which one was named ‘bouba’. Both groups said the rounder shape was ‘bouba’ and the spikier one was ‘kiki.’ How the words sounded when said aloud influenced the groups on what type of image they related to. This is a prime example of how sound can be much more than noise, and in fact, affect what people think, and how they view the world.

When it comes to food, sound becomes even more instrumental. Its pivotal role was made apparent in the 1970s, when Corrigan Corp played natural sounds like rainstorms before misting their produce. The sounds made their customers believe the food was even fresher than it was – and of course, sales rocketed.

But sound doesn’t just affect the way we food – it can also influence how we taste it. In 2016, the team behind the ‘Chivas Regal Ultis Sensory Tasting Experience’ used sensory science to match a unique soundscape to each of the malts in Ultis. As each malt was tasted, the individual sounds were listened to. Then as Ultis as a whole was sipped from, all the sounds played together – resulting in the intact taste of the liquor.

In today’s world, we all want the finished product… the absolute complete package. So the idea that something could be missing is undesirable. Sound is that something. Thankfully, restaurants all over the world are increasingly incorporating music into their dining experiences. After all, why only please one of the senses when you could be satisfying two?

At Vespertine, a renowned restaurant in Los Angeles, Head Chef Jordan Kahn is making sure his diners aren’t missing out. Music from experimental rock band, This Will Destroy You, is heard in different parts of the restaurant. “Each piece has been composed as an aural sensory element of the subject’s journey,” Kahn says. And playing with the relationship between food and music is clearly working for him, as his restaurant has been met by rave reviews since it opened last July.

The signature chefs at airline, Finnair, have also used music to amplify tastes. For example, their sweetcorn and chicken soup is eaten with harmonic frequencies that emphasise the sweetness and intensify the sensual experience. The usual drone of the plane’s engine is no more. 

In addition to enhancing the taste of the food, many fast food chains have also used sound to influence consumer behaviour. The focus of fast food isn’t necessarily the exquisite taste, so instead of trying to amplify flavours – sandwich chain, Subway, plays tracks with higher beats per minute to encourage customers to hurry along the line as they wait.

The number of restaurants and food chains using music to their advantage is on the rise – and the increasing sensory experience is only set to gain more momentum across other industries too. Companies are recognising that it’s a clever way to advertise without being too intrusive.

Memories make music, and music makes memories. That sweet feeling of nostalgia is what every brand wants to be associated with – and as they are now finding; audio is the way to do it.

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