By Tamara Scully
Whether or not to offer live music is a conundrum every restaurant owner must face. From the small café to the bustling tavern, live music has been used to draw crowds, offering guests dinner and a show. Music is the incentive to give your place a try, come back for a new experience, and spend an extra night out in order to enjoy a good performance.
Unfortunately, all too often offering live music draws in the wrong crowds, upsets your regular clientele, and makes dining less enjoyable. Before jumping on the bandwagon and booking a band, think long and hard about how live music can complement the dining experience, benefit your restaurant, and fit your budget.
Think like a pro
The best way to think about your music needs is to think like a seasoned, professional musician, not like a restaurant owner. Professional musicians seek a venue thar is a good fit for their performance—playing to an uninterested, bored, or irate group of diners isn’t going to help their career.
Making live music work in a restaurant setting isn’t easy. It requires quality music, a good genre fit, and the proper environment for musical harmony, not dissonance.
Attuned to looking at these details is Frank Lamphere, an independent artist and music contractor based in the Chicago area. Lamphere has 17 years of experience playing live music in dining venues, as well as hiring independent musicians to perform his music brand, “Rat Pack Jazz,” both nationally and internationally.
“The wrong music does more harm than good,” Lamphere says.
The first issue to address is the area for the performance. Rather than clear out the back corner, think about the acoustic quality of the room, and allow enough space for the musicians. Find an area where live music can complement, not interfere with, diners’ conversations.
“I think the size, positioning of a performance area, and especially the acoustic quality of a room are the first consideration,” Lamphere says. “If a room is noisy, music won’t work. It will compete with the customers and not be anything but loud and out of place. Music at the correct volume, played with proficiency and paced properly, should allow diners to converse without having to scream across the table.”
But even the best acoustical setup can’t succeed without the right musicians. While it may be tempting to let anyone who can carry a tune and doesn’t charge too much to set up space, that is a rookie mistake.
“Hiring someone that’s not very good, but that has a great following may help you make a little profit on that night, but prevent other hard-earned customers from ever coming back,” Lamphere explains. “Music should be an investment, long-term.”
The music you offer should also align with your menu and ambience. Trying to fit classical music into a rowdy tavern won’t work; neither will a punk rock band fit into a fine dining restaurant. Going from one type of music to another is like trying a new restaurant concept each night.
“I see recently-opened restaurants continually opt to hire bands of different genres from week to week. They aren’t a Brazilian steakhouse one night and then a soul food restaurant the following night,” Lamphere says. “So why do that with the music? Pick a type of music and stay true to it.”
Selecting the right music is akin to choosing the perfect menu and needs just as much thought. Some music is easier to play at lower volumes, such as jazz, and is more suitable for quiet, formal dining experiences. A more boisterous, casual environment might hire blues, country, or pop musicians. Lamphere, whose music is a mix of jazz and “Sinatra type” retro-pop, prefers an upscale steakhouse, but also fits the needs of an Italian restaurant.
Today, he knows to seek venues that work with his music. When interviewing musicians, restaurants should ask them what type of venues best fit their style. If your ambience isn’t right for their music, you’re doing both yourself and the band a favor by moving on.
“I definitely seek venues that are a good match,” Lamphere says. “Higher-priced establishments, with great food and service,” are his best fit. “I may go more pop than jazz in a particular setting, but that’s it.”
The full package
Selecting the right live music rounds out the dining experience. Getting it wrong can be hard to swallow. Making a poor musical decision – low-quality performers, poor acoustics, or sound control, or the wrong style music for your niche – can have lasting repercussions.
Says Lamphere, “[A restaurant] will sink or swim depending on what they decide ‘right’ is for their venue.”FIND IT Frank Lamphere Rat Pack Entertainment, LLC (630) 202-4887 www.ratpackjazz.com