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Pros and cons: Eight arguments for and against music in your outdoor area

Pro  Cons Music Article
Music is an integral part of our idea of leisure-time—particularly when we visit cafés and restaurants. In outdoor areas, music can contribute much to the enjoyment of a summer evening. It can, however, also be very annoying. Is music in your outdoor area a positive or a negative factor? Think long and hard about it before you decide.

1. Pros: with music, guests drink more

Music, and how loud it is played, influences the drinking behaviour of your guests.  French psychologist Nicolas Guéguen (University of Southern Brittany) discovered this through a 2008 survey of male beer drinkers in a small French town. The louder the music, the more quickly they drained their glasses. Earlier surveys also found out that the faster the music, the more guests drank. This could be because music stirs certain emotions or because conversation becomes more difficult as sound levels increase. In view of this, you can expect your guests to drink more when you play music or stage live concerts in your outdoor area.

2. Pros: live concerts are easier to stage outdoors

A live concert is an emotional event. When we and our friends experience an artist live on stage, an evening out becomes a memorable event. Guest tend to stay until the end of the concert and will almost certainly have more than one drink. An indoor stage is often impractical due to lack of space, poor acoustics, and insufficient ventilation. In contrast, a small stage can be built quickly outdoors with a couple of thick planks and some suitable decking. After all, you probably won’t be hiring the Rolling Stones; a solo singer with an acoustic guitar or a chamber music ensemble can set the perfect scene without having to break the bank.

3. Pros: music relaxes your guests and makes them more patient

Impatience grows in silence. “Where’s what we ordered?” As smaller groups of guests are less distracted by conversation, they tend to get impatient and concentrate more on when their orders will arrive. Music makes guests feel entertained. When your service team is under pressure, guests will then be better prepared for delays. Music thus can play a positive role in influencing your guests’ moods.

4. Pros: music outdoors enables you to stage highly profitable events

Fixed events on the calendar are particularly important for restaurateurs during periods when revenue is low to guarantee financial security. With wedding parties of 50 guests, revenue for food and drink can quickly become four-figure sums. Still, hardly any newlyweds celebrating their reception in summer want to be cooped up inside. Many prefer to celebrate at least part of their happiest day outdoors. As dancing is a part of most wedding parties, you should have a sound system or organise a live band.

1. Cons: music can annoy your guests—particularly outdoors

Guests have acoustic expectations that depend on the type of gastronomic experience they wish to enjoy. In a gourmet restaurant, they expect a gentle and soothing background of light classical music or cool jazz. In contrast, pubs, clubs or bars will more likely treat their guests to louder popular music or rock. In outdoor areas, guests tend to appreciate the sounds of nature or peace and quiet more than background music, however subtle it may be. After all, if they want, they can listen to music all winter long.

2. Cons: a sound system is a cost factor

You must deal with extra costs if you intend to offer guests some kind of musical backdrop outdoors. If you want to connect outdoor speakers to your existing sound system, you may need a more powerful amplifier and some way of synchronising the music to get the right volume. This can all be controlled by a special software solution, which you must purchase. You will also need weatherproof outdoor speakers. Another cost factor is the licensing fee that copyright management organisations in many European countries levy on each piece of music played or performed in a commercial context. If you intend to stage live concerts on a regular basis, you generally need to apply for a licence from local authorities and pay a corresponding fee. This could increase the taxes you must pay, as you would now be a concert promoter as well as a restaurateur.

3. Cons: music outdoors can sometimes be a problem

There’s one big problem with music: the louder it is, the louder people talk. If you have music outdoors, you must realise your guests will be noisier—even after you have closed. This angers many neighbours. Although there are ways to reduce the noise from your patio or garden [see ‘Neighbours and noise: how to run your outdoor area without complaints and problems’], you can expect complaints. Noise-sensitive neighbours could take legal action against you if you don’t take precautionary measures.

4. Cons: tastes vary

Rock music is not everyone’s cup of tea. If you treat guests in your outdoor area to music, you will delight some of them but simultaneously chase others away. If the majority of your customers is 50+,tolerance for contemporary pop music may be relatively low. At the same time, classical, jazz, or folk music will probably not go down well with younger guests. Still, it’s very likely that no one will complain about a garden without music.

What factors must I take into consideration if I want to offer music outdoors?

  • Check that your sound system is powerful enough to serve all the speakers needed for the size of your outdoor area. 
  • Install a safe power supply and put your equipment someplace rain-proof. 
  • Set the volume to a level that won’t bother your neighbours and make sure that it can’t be made louder.
  • Make sure that your sound system is inaccessible to guests who may wish to use it to play their own CDs. 
  • Make sure that the speakers are weatherproof and firmly installed.
  • Choose the kind of music the majority of your guests would like to hear. Professional music software for the catering segment can take care of operating the system.
  • If you are planning to stage a live concert in your garden, don’t forget that you will need a permit from the local authorities.
  • Speak to your neighbours if you are planning a wedding or other event that could be a little loud.

Step-by-step: make a peace treaty with your neighbours

If your neighbours complain about loud music from your outdoor area, address their concerns.

  • Visit your neighbours in person, introduce yourself, and ask them to identify when louder music is a problem. Offer alternatives and be prepared to compromise!
  • Invite your neighbours to a meeting to discuss problems. Show them your outdoor area and make it an attractive option for an evening out! 
  • Invite your neighbours to a cost-free or attractively priced ‘Friends & Neighbours Fête’ once a year during summer. Try to make your establishment a ‘home away from home’ for them.

List of copyright management organisations in Europe

If you play recorded music in your restaurant or café, you must pay licence fees to the respective copyright management organisation:

  • GEMA (Germany) 
  • AKM (Austria)
  • SUISA (Switzerland)
  • SIAE (Italy)
  • SACEM (France)
  • SGAE (Spain)
  • SPA (Portugal)
  • OSA (Czech Republic)
  • ARTISJUS (Hungary)
  • ZAIKS (Poland)
  • SABAM (Belgium)
  • BUMA (Netherlands)
  • STIM (Sweden) 
  • KODA (Denmark)
  • PRS for Music (UK)

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