Listening to music can be great for unwinding – especially after a long day. I wonder if department stores and hotel elevators would be much more stressful if it weren’t for the piped music! But what about listening to an instrumental piece for when you’re chowing down? If the sound of mastication turns you off, then perhaps music could be an ideal accompaniment. Personally, I enjoy a bit of Mozart at mealtime, but am I the only one? Could there be a good reason for this?
The effects of music on the enjoyment of food hasn’t been properly studied in a scientific way before. But recently published research in the Journal of Culinary Science & Technology has just changed that. Heston Blumenthal is famous for his scientific approach to pushing forward the boundaries of the dining experience. Is it possible that the man who makes Bacon and Egg ice cream could use music to make his food taste even better?
Music and Fine Dining
Eating out can be one of life’s great pleasures. When our bank balance permits it, we love to treat ourselves to a bit of ‘posh’ fine dining with all its niceties: Attentive waiters, white linen table cloths, silver cutlery and good wine. (And no washing up)! But music doesn’t normally seem fit into the mix – most restaurants I’ve been to just don’t play any background music.
Three hospitality gurus from the US were interested by whether music could change to eating experience and decided to find out more. Using a bit of Heston-style science they set up an experiment find out whether background sounds can fundamentally change the eating experience.
A Musical Eating Experiment
They started by inviting groups of hungry diners for a free restaurant meal. The only caveat for the free tucker was that all the volunteers had to complete a ‘dining satisfaction survey’ afterwards: A detailed questionnaire that would examine in detail their dining experience.But before the plates were put out, the researchers did made some devious little changes to the dining room. They installed a hidden network of speakers with sets of sound monitors so that throughout the meal they could precisely monitor and control background noise and music levels.
Four sittings of men and women were served the same slap-up meal in identical restaurant settings. But for each group of punters, the music volume and ‘background chatter’ levels were subtly tweaked. And although these changes to the ‘soundscape‘ were small, they resulted in some dramatic changes to the pleasure of eating…
We Eat through Our Ears!
Their results showed that food tasted nicest when served with quiet classical music and a hint of background ‘chatter’. This was found to only work at certain volumes (precisely: 62-67 decibels) and outside of that range – the diners enjoyed the taste of the food less!
The most remarkable finding was the dramatic effect that silence had – it actually took away the enjoyment of eating! In a music-less environment, the sound monitors recorded only the quiet clink of cutlery – but this was experienced by all the volunteers as very noisy! It seems that in the absence of at least some ambient sound, the restaurant setting became a very uncomfortable place to be.
The next time you (or Heston) want to impress someone with your cooking prowess, just make sure you put the CD player on (but not too loud).
But all this does leave me wondering one thing: If classical music makes food taste nicer, perhaps different types of music could change the experience of food in a different way? I would expect that pop music could make things taste sweeter, and rock music could make for more ‘meaty’ tastes. I wonder what country music might do…
Thanks for reading – comments and feedback are warmly welcomed!
Related post: Take the Music Personality Test!Reference:
Novak, C., La Lopa, J., & Novak, R. (2010). Effects of Sound Pressure Levels and Sensitivity to Noise on Mood and Behavioral Intent in a Controlled Fine Dining Restaurant Environment Journal of Culinary Science & Technology, 8 (4), 191-218 DOI: 10.1080/15428052.2010.535756
INTERESTED IN THIS SORT OF STUFF? I’ve been part of a team that has just launched a new (free) bi-monthly magazine which aims to deliver more of the same. It all started on 1st June 2011 – Check it out here!