The Forgotten Sense : Dear Restaurant Owners, Listen To This

The Forgotten Sense

Eating is an experience of all five senses. Think of how you can enjoy the crunchy texture of a perfectly fried chicken skin, inhale the fragrant smell of fresh herbs, or be in awe of the architecture and interior design of a café. Indonesians are also no stranger to using their bare hands to eat rice—touch. But how about hearing? In the world of food, hearing is more often than not the least of concern, left and forgotten.

Let’s begin with the basic, acoustics. Cafés with minimalistic interior are hip and all that, but the bare walls and hard surface floors leave little or no sound absorption materials. The results are echoes, or laughters on the 2nd floor that can be heard from the 1st floor. There is an overall noisy feeling although only two tables are occupied. This is not comfortable. Since I’m pretty sure this is not what the café is aiming for, the conclusion is simple: They simply didn’t think of it.

You want to make sure that your customers can converse with ease, yet still within the ambience that you want your café to be associated with. Silence is not an option, because no one likes lifeless atmosphere. One of the ways to achieve this is to curate a specific playlist.

It’s true that a number of cafés and restaurants have invested quite a lot for their sound equipments. Kudos for them for doing that. Then again, having a good gear does not guarantee good ambience. One also has to know how to use it properly and pick the right songs. I once dined at a Japanese restaurant where the staffs played a whole Ariana Grande album in loop. Was it some kind of a joke? Or pure ignorance? I seriously had a hard time connecting my omurice with Ariana.

I’m sure there are people out there who specialize in this kind of thing. Playlist maker for hire, if you will. Having said that, common sense and understanding how you want to portray your brand are a good place to start. Variety is also important. For instance, you can make three different playlists, each for morning, afternoon, and night time. Depending on your intended ambience, perhaps pick nothing too upbeat so customers won’t feel rushed, and nothing too slow to prevent depressing mood.  In Ombé Kofie, one afternoon I get a very jazzy playlist, the next day I get a Ta-ku slash Wafia chillhop kind of music. This suits Ombé’s sense of community and diversity—there’s something for everyone.

Curating a playlist is a part of marketing. When you manage to create a great ambience, people remember it as a positive trait that is also a part of your brand. I have helped a few restaurants and coffee shops during their early stages, and we talked everything in details. Think logo, room design, social media, music, and how all individual elements must connect to create one cohesiveness. A hair out of place, even when it’s something seemingly insignificant like a playlist, can be a boomerang.

If you want your café or restaurant to give a memorable dining experience that people will talk about long after their visit, all five senses, including hearing, must be taken into consideration. At the very least, you have to know how to turn on Spotify, choose an appropriate playlist, and know when the list ends to avoid looping and autoplay. That’s acceptable. But if you want to be extraordinary, go the extra mile. Get yourself immersed in the nitty-gritty, including acoustics and playlist. Who knows it could be the difference between people wanting to come back to your place or not. When you’re one of the few who have thought about this forgotten sense, I believe you’re at least one step ahead from the rest.

Written By

Fellexandro Ruby

Food photographer, and story teller sharing his passion in food, travel, culinary hits and highlights. Always on the mission to make you drool. Founder of

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    • Haha. I have quite the opposite experience though. I find Monolog quite brainteasing. The ‘chaos’ on the background somehow helps add the energy. But then again, different people are wired differently. I’d suggest coming to coffee shops not at the usual busy hours (3-5pm) 😉 Any favorite ‘quite’ cafe / coffeeshop?

  • Is license would be an issue since it’s commercial purpose? I mean yes we can simply turn on spotify, set proper playlist, optimize the ambience, etc. What bothers me is when I hear Ariana Grande newest album right after the first 2-3 days from its release day (which is impossible to get license that fast), is it really okay?

    • Hi, in Indonesia I’m not sure about licensing when played in public places such as restaurant or cafe. I don’t think our laws regulate that yet. But in UK or US there’s a specific license for that.

  • Thank you so much for bringing this topic up! Yes, playlist is one of the point to decide whether me and my wife will go back to a restaurant/coffee shop or not. And it did just happened. We decided not to give another visit to one restaurant, because the music can’t build the ambience we expect (plus parking fee issue).

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