Sound is one of the most crucial elements for the customer experience, especially in the hospitality industry, however, its impetus is often underestimated. Sound can make or break your hotel, restaurant or bar’s brand identity and reputation if it’s not calculated properly, as too loud or too soft often dissolves the desired ambiance and experience for both customers, management and staff.
What’s more, sound is the most mysterious sense. It’s not visible to the eye, however its impacts are far reaching and so powerful. It can impact directly on our moods and subsequent spending behaviours, it can build long-lasting impressions instantaneously, both for the good and not so good. When sound is orchestrated strategically, it can reinforce a brand and enhance customer engagement, which is priceless. Below are five ways to get the perfect sound in your hospitality business.
If customers have a negative perception of your brand, they are not going to want to spend a significant amount of time in your venue, and thus spend less money. Get the background music and sound spot-on, and your customers’ positive perceptions of your brand will lead them to stay longer, and spend more.Gideon Chain, CEO of Ambie
1. Volume: pump it up or tone it down?
It’s very common to think what will create the perfect vibe and sound for your business is the musical genres and playlists, but don’t forget the volume levels! The volume of your background music is an essential element that can have wide-ranging consequences. For example, studies have revealed that the volume of music affects the food choices of the consumers and might have an influence on overall sales. In addition, if the volume is too soft, there may be no buzz or ambiance in the bar, alternatively if the music is too loud and you cannot hear yourself ordering a drink, you may decide to move onto somewhere more conducive.
Many businesses in the hospitality industry play their music far too loud for the space they occupy, which can lead to the incorrect conclusion that silence is better. The trick is to maintain a decibel level that is comfortable for your customers, and of course your staff who spend hours exposed to it. Ideally, a noise level under 70 decibels in the restaurant is pleasant to the ears and ideal for conversations, whereas for bars and pubs, they should be able to sustain between 75 and 80 decibels comfortably.
For restaurants, louder music will tend to have a negative impact. In contrast, low volume music playing in the bar would tend to add a monotonous tone to the otherwise lively environment. Obnoxiously loud music playing in the restaurant is a significant mood spoiler and makes it impossible for the customers to indulge in a conversation. The trick is knowing and being familiar when to amp things up in your business. It’s common to match the energy of your crowd with the volume of your music. One way to do this is with the sit or stand rule: if more of your customers are standing, chatting, and moving around – keep the music up. If the majority are sitting, turn it down.
There’s an ongoing debate within businesses, especially in the hospitality industry, as to which option is more effective: firstly, centralising all music control to the head office or a specific team (usually Operations or Marketing) who’ll be responsible for overseeing all things music cross-locations, or secondly, whether giving your staff the control to change, add, remove songs and turn up or decrease the volume, is more effective. There’s no right or wrong, but it needs careful consideration.
- Centralised: For some businesses and venues, they prefer the peace of mind letting a centralised team take control of all things music as this will ensure consistency across the brand and its touchpoints, it will ensure the playlists and their inherent volumes are tailored to trading patterns and it’s guaranteed to seamlessly flow, without the panic of busy team members trying to remember when / what / how when it comes to the background sound. In order for there to be consistent music which is on-brand and speaks the language of the business in the right tone, no matter if it’s one venue or 100, a centralised team will automatically manage and schedule all curated music and playlists in order to ensure the experience and ambiance is always on target.
- Localised: For some businesses and venues, the management team like to be in full control of the music playing at all times, including how loud or soft it is. They enjoy having the autonomy to change songs / volume as and when they feel it is best, or to suit the current customers and guests. This is done by dedicated select members of staff, or the full team. This flexibility and carte blanch most certainly does work, however, this incumbency and responsibility needs to be factored in from the get-go.
When picking the ideal speakers for your business, the multitude of options can be overwhelming. There are budget speakers to high-end brands, the loudest or the clearest in terms of audio quality. If you’ve been trying to boost customer dwell time, venue reputation and ultimately sales, it may be a good time to start investing in a quality sound system, which is arguably just as important as the playlists being played.
There are many well-known brands and some less well-known brands both which have similar quality, as well as different types of speakers, including wall speakers, invisible-in-the-wall speakers, mounted speakers, ceiling speakers, drop-ceiling speakers, multi-angle speakers and smart and arc sound bars (and more).
The type of speakers may also be dependent on the type of business they’ll be used for. For example, in a bar where the noise level is high, the speakers will need to match the noise level for the background music to be effective. Whereas in a quieter café which is more relaxed, an affordable, high-quality sound bar speaker may suffice. In a bustling restaurant, drop-ceiling speakers can help immerse your customers in music without it being too loud or obnoxious.
Here at Ambie, we’ve got together with our trusted AV partner AT&C, to have a look at recommendations for the best sound systems for your hospitality business.
Bose Systems: BOSE is well recognised for assisting with music for hospitality and providing high quality, reliable, and easy-to-use sound systems. When you choose a BOSE sound system you are choosing a product that will work equally in the background or foreground, with the options to externally display the system or place it in a more discreet position. This makes it ideal to play music for bar venues or music for cafe businesses.
K-Array: K-Array speaker systems are designed to easily blend into the interior of your overall front of house design. They are incredibly small and compact, while also producing a fully rounded sound for a large venue. This is perfect for music for cafe businesses or a business soundtrack for smaller venue spaces.
D&B: D&B German-engineered sound systems would be another high-quality choice to use within your establishment. The sound produced by the D&B products is known to be rich without cutting across guest conversations. The subtle sound produced by the D&B systems ensures you can provide the perfect business soundtrack.
BSS: A classic choice for music for hotel venues or music for bar businesses, the BSS products are reliable, compact, and easy to use. In fact, the controls on the BSS have some of the simplest setups in the market, making them an ideal choice for front of house areas with a variety of staff members.
Bang & Olufsen: This Denmark brand pride themselves on being an ideal support system to perfectly craft your guests’ overall experience within your business. Describing their products as ‘objects of art,’ B&O is definitely the brand you want if you are searching for something that will also be aesthetically appealing.
4. The placement of speakers
Location, location, location. Despite which speakers your business has, proper speaker placement can significantly improve the overall listening experience and sound. Below are 5 elements to consider when it comes to speaker placement:
- Initial placement: Decide roughly where you will be positioned when listening, then place your speakers so that they form an equilateral triangle with your listening position.
- Speaker separation: If your speakers are too close, sounds will blend together and become muddy. If they are too far apart, there will be a gap between the two halves of the stereo image (more on this later). Aim for 4 feet of separation for shelf speakers and 8 feet for floor speakers.
- Speaker height: Position your speakers so the tweeters (small drivers on the speakers which handle the high-frequency treble range) are at the same height as your ears.
- Wall proximity: Remember that walls reflect sound, too. Move your speakers about 2-3 feet away from the wall to minimise sound reflections which can impact playback clarity.
- Angle speaker adjustments: Angle your speaker inwards so they’re pointed towards the customers, not facing upwards.
Installing an appropriate sound system can really help to maximise the entertainment offering of a venue. Getting it right will help contribute to a great atmosphere that will help a venue stand out from the crowd, attract customers, increase time spent in the venue and encourage repeat business.Loud and Clear Audio Visual Installations
5. The quality of music tracks
The big question here is all about the quality of the tracks, as this will be a determining factor in how the music will sound. Does the sound on the tracks go up and down in volume, or are they normalised and level? To normalise audio involves tweaking / changing the overall volume by a fixed amount to reach a target level.
Normalisation is the process of adding or subtracting a certain amount of gain or amplification to bring an audio recording to a target level, otherwise known as the “norm”. When the played songs are normalised and the sound levels are consistent, this will enhance the overall sound quality in your hotel, restaurant or bar. On the flipside, if the tracks are not normalised, there may be some parts which are louder and would require someone to turn the volume down, or if too soft, would require someone to turn it up, which does not allow for a smooth and seamless listening experience, as well as requires additional resources on hand.
Additional considerations for the perfect sound
Budget: Is your budget to get the sound perfect realistic, taking into account the type of speakers and the quantity needed? Have you factored in professional installation and wiring? Should you try stretch further and kick your sound up a notch?
Size and shape of the room: Business owners need to adapt their sound systems to the shape and size of the room, not vice versa. Questions which need to be considered include, where will customers sit? How far away are the speakers? How many speakers are needed? Will the speakers be on the wall, our mounted on a wall?
Sound distribution: The music should not overpower some customers, whilst others cannot hear anything at all in “dead spots”, so it’s important to ensure the sound is evenly distributed with uniform frequency (highs, mids and bass) all over the venue.
Wireless capabilities: Wireless options reduce the need for professional installations, as well as fewer things to secure, camouflage or trip over. If this route was considered, you’d have to check that your Wi-Fi signal is strong enough with a good enough range.