The Importance of Music in Creating Positive Food Experiences

Have you ever gone into a restaurant for a certain type of food (Italian, for example), only to find they play music that is completely unrelated to the meal (perhaps they play Top 40 hits or some other type)? It seems like an anomaly, and it sticks out like a sore thumb. Many restaurants don’t see the connection between food and music.

We as consumers, though, have food expectations. When we go into a restaurant or event that focuses on a certain country or cuisine, we generally expect all aspects of that experience to be of that country or cuisine – including music.

Luckily, many restaurants and other establishments include music as a critical component of the food experience. They create a more immersive experience than you otherwise would have had. You are in the moment.

Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, focuses on “using technology to enhance your experience with food.” In his books, The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining, and Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating, Spence describes a variety of factors that influence the dining experience, music being one of them. He covers such aspects as volume, tempo, genre, etc., and analyzes how they affect the dining experience. While Spence focuses on restaurants, these same principles apply in any setting: whether you are eating at home, at the office, at a park, etc.

You can create positive food experiences regardless of your location or circumstances.


How is music an active contributor to creating positive food experiences?


guitar, fruit, and flowers on a table to represent adding music to create positive food experiences

Music brings the immersion and history of the cuisine to your table.

Music brings the immersion and history of the cuisine to your table.

It can also bring those components to your kitchen as you cook the meal. For example, I like to play music associated with the cuisine in the background while I am cooking. It keeps me energized and focused on the food.

The music helps you understand how to prepare the meal.

Not directly, as with a recipe, but indirectly as you get a sense of the people involved in that cuisine…and the history…and the culture of that food. When you create that experience, you are creating the environment that is part of the experience.

Music is soothing.

It brings you into the experience with the food, both mentally and physically. If you are eating without music, you just taste the experience, but you are not hearing it. Music inserts an additional sense into the food experience. You can see the meal, taste the meal, and now you can also hear the atmosphere surrounding the meal. Normally you do not hear anything during the meal besides the conversation. When you have music that enhances the type of food and the environment from which it came, that brings a whole other dimension into the overall experience.

What is experience? Experience is using your senses. With the addition of music, you have just added another dimension to your senses about the experience. Hear the music. See the food. Smell the food. Taste the food. Touch the food. It brings memories. The experience itself, and different things that you experience together, develop memories. People talk about the meals they had at home. They remember the smells, the conversation, and different aspects of the experience.


How Music Involves the Six Principles of Positive Food Experiences

Music involves all six principles of positive food experiences:

·      Music involves the principle of food as you focus on the history of the food itself. If you are listening to music where they are roasting a pig, for example, you get the overall feel of the meal.

·      It helps the principle of people by inspiring the thoughts and ideas of the people with whom you eat. Music fosters conversations about the meal in its current state, as well as memories of similar past meals.

·      It includes the principle of environment in that you are creating the environment in order to focus on the meal. You have the particular cuisine on the table. You have music in the background – and it should be IN THE BACKGROUND, so turn the volume down.  Remember: it’s background music; it’s not the main event (many restaurants forget this important fact).

You are creating that environment to focus on the food. Having music inspires the people, whether you are eating as a family, or by yourself, or with friends or colleagues. It helps to draw everyone into that experience. Depending on the background and experiences of the people involved, the music may trigger memories of past food experiences. That may lead to the sharing of those experiences – and maybe even sharing a few recipes.

·      Music involves the principle of knowledge base by inspiring you to enhance your cooking skills. Perhaps the music of smooth jazz helps you focus. Maybe the maracas used in many Mexican tunes help you to learn to measure ingredients more effectively.

·      It helps the principle of interaction as you prepare the food. You understand the ingredients a little better. Because you understand the musical history of various cuisines, you can use the appropriate cooking techniques associated with that cuisine.

·      It includes the principle of motivation as you select different pieces of music to accompany the preparation and eating of the meal. If the music is too intense, it can actually hinder your food experience. You can then resolve to plan accordingly the next time. If the music was just right, you may be motivated to learn more about the culinary history of a particular cuisine or dish. What are the origins of the meal? Under what circumstances did people eat a particular dish?


European Meal Example

People often have various food experiences when they visit another country. When they return home they relive some of those experiences they had abroad via the senses that trigger different memories. You not only can create new memories with music, but you can also relive or enhance past memories.

On a recent trip to Europe, for example, we went to a Bavarian restaurant in Germany. We sampled several dishes, including savory dumplings, a variety of roasted meats, and hearty salads. They also had traditional Bavarian music playing in the background.

When we returned home, we made some homemade dumplings in an attempt to recreate that experience in Germany. We talked through what ingredients were likely present in the dumplings, and then made our own. Then we looked up some Bavarian dinner music, and had that playing as we both cooked and ate the meal.

We relived the European experience. Music makes the meal more fun and enjoyable. It makes the meal different and unique. Not only is the food unique, but also the music adds another dimension to the experience.


How can you harness the power of music to create positive food experiences?

Turn it on

With today’s technology, it is very easy to access music from any country, cuisine, or origin. YouTube, for example, has literally thousands of different music pieces – absolutely free! Perhaps you have an impressive collection of music in your own library or on your electronic devices. Whether on an old radio, a tablet, or some other device, crank up the tunes!

meal with a smartphone playing music to represent using music to create positive food experiences

With today’s technology, it is very easy to access music from any country, cuisine, or origin.

Investigate the Culinary History of Dishes and Cuisines

In addition to simply playing music on an electronic device, you can take it a step further by discovering the purposes and circumstances surrounding a particular dish or cuisine. Beef brisket, for example, is a culinary staple in Texas. Samosas originated in the Middle East. Many dishes are prepared in different ways depending on the region. Depending on the dish you are cooking (and the geographic region that dish is associated with), you can play music particular to that situation.

Use Live Performances to Enhance the Mealtime Environment

Listen to a concert in the park as you eat a picnic lunch. Hire a string quartet or local band for a wedding reception that you are in charge of. Ask a musically talented friend to serenade you and your significant other as the two of you enjoy a delicious meal. Live performances can provide an even greater degree of culinary immersion.

With technology and creativity at your side, you can create a wonderful culinary environment that will generate lasting memories. I invite you to consider ways you can create positive food experiences through the use of music. Select one of the ways listed above, or come up with your own ideas.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: How do YOU use music to create positive food experiences?

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