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Having the right taste for music

Research by the Universities of Leicester and Surrey has found that playing classical music in restaurants encourages diners to spend more.

Dr Adrian North and Amber Shilcock of the School of Psychology, University of Leicester, and David Hargreaves, formerly of Leicester now at the Faculty of Education, University of Surrey Roehampton carried out the study.

They spent three weeks monitoring the effects of classical, pop music and background silence on spending and found that playing classical music made people feel more affluent:

  • When classical music was played in the background, diners spent an average of more than £24 per head on food and drinks,
  • When pop music was played, less than £22 was spent by each diner,
  • When no background music existed, spending fell to £21.70 per head.

In the same test, diners were spending more than £1 each on coffee with classical music, compared to only 80p with pop music and 54p without any background noise.

The study was carried out at Softley’s restaurant in Market Bosworth.

The full study follows:

The Effect of Musical Style on Restaurant Customers’ Spending
Adrian C North, Amber Shilcock, and David J Hargreaves
School of Psychology, University of Leicester,
University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, United Kingdom

*Faculty of Education, University of Surrey Roehampton,
Roehampton Lane, London SW15 5SL, United Kingdom

Key words: Music, consumers, atmosphere, purchasing, fit

Dr Adrian North is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Leicester. His research interests focus on the social psychology of music, particularly musical preference in everyday contexts, music and consumer behaviour, and the effects of music on adolescents. (telephone +44 116 252 2175; Fax +44 116 252 2067; email

David Hargreaves is Professor of Child Development, Director of the Centre for International Research in Music Education (CIRME), and Froebel Research Fellow at the University of Surrey Roehampton. He is currently co-directing projects on pupil and teacher identities in music education (ESRC), and on young people’s music in and out of school (QCA).

Amber Shilcock was awarded her BSc Hons in Psychology by the University of Leicester in 2002.


Classical music, pop music and no music were played in a British restaurant over the course of eighteen evenings. The mean spend per head for each table was calculated for starters, main courses, desserts, coffee, bar drinks, wine, overall drink bill, overall food bill and total spend. Total time spent in the restaurant was also measured. 

A MANOVA analysis revealed that there was an overall significant difference between the conditions, with classical music leading to higher spending than both no music and pop music. Univariate analyses indicated that there were differences between the conditions on mean spend per head on starters, coffee, total spend on food and overall spend. These findings were consistent with the limited previous research, which indicated that the playing of background classical music led to a) people reporting that they were prepared to spend more, and b) higher actual spending. The results indicate that restaurant managers can use classical music to increase customer spending, and are discussed in terms of three possible explanations for this.

The Effect of Musical Style on the Behaviour of Restaurant Customers

Research on consumer behaviour indicates that retail environments can create certain atmospheres through lighting, decoration, smell etc., and that these can subsequently influence several aspects of customers’ behaviour (see review by Turley and Milliman, 2000). A more limited amount of research has considered the impact of music as one particular atmospheric variable, with several studies indicating a positive relationship between musical tempo and the speed with which customers shop and also eat in restaurants (see e.g. Caldwell and Hibbert, 1999; Milliman, 1982; Milliman, 1986; and Robally, McGreevey, and Rongo et al, 1985).

Two more recent studies have considered another aspect of music that may influence consumers, namely genre, finding that classical music leads to greater purchase intentions than does either pop music or no music. Areni and Kim (1993) played classical music and top 40 pop music in a wine cellar. The number of bottles of wine sold did not differ between these two conditions: However, classical music led to more expensive wine being bought, with customers spending a mean of $7.43 compared with $2.18 when top 40 music was played. Similarly, North and Hargreaves (1998) played classical music, pop music, easy listening music, and no music in a campus student cafeteria. First, classical music led to a greater perception of the cafeteria as being ‘upmarket’. Second, when customers were asked to state the maximum sum that they would be prepared to spend on 14 items on sale in the cafeteria, classical music led to purchase intentions that were 20.5% higher than no music, 18.8% higher than easy listening music, and 3.7% higher than pop music. In both cases, the authors argued that their results were attributable to classical music activating associated mental representations concerning affluence and wealth that primed a relevant behaviour, namely spending money: Indeed, North, Hargreaves, and McKendrick (1997; 1999) described how effects such as these may be explicable in terms of research on neural network approaches to human cognition.

It seems that classical music may exert a considerable influence on purchase intentions, and that further investigation is needed to explore the extent of this, and the conditions under which it occurs. The study by North and Hargreaves (1998) employed only undergraduate participants, and considered purchase intentions rather than actual spending. Similarly, Areni and Kim (1993) considered the sales of only one product, namely wine. In order to investigate the wider applicability of these findings the present research played classical music, pop music, and no music over 18 evenings in a town centre restaurant. Measures were taken of spending by customers on various items. The findings of Areni and Kim (1993) and North and Hargreaves (1998) would lead us to expect that classical music should lead to customers spending more money than pop music. The effect of the no music condition relative to these other two is more difficult to predict.


The participants were all 393 customers who ate in the restaurant between February and March 2002 (excluding a small number of customers who ate at the restaurant twice or more during the period of the research). There were approximately equal numbers of males and females, and participants were not aware that they were taking part in the investigation. 142 participants were exposed to the pop music condition, 120 to the classical music condition, and 131 to the no music condition. Overall, a total of 141 parties of diners were investigated; 49 parties in the pop music condition, 44 parties in the classical music condition, and 48 parties in the no music condition.

Two x 76-minute CDs were prepared for each music condition, ensuring that no single piece of music was repeated for any single customer. The music was played at a constant background volume on the restaurant’s usual CD system, which held two CDs and played them on a continuous random program. The classical music condition contained very well-known classical music pieces (e.g. excerpts of Vivaldi’s Four seasons, Handel’s Water music, and Strauss’ Emperor waltz), and the pop music condition contained similarly well known pieces drawn from the mid-1980s to the present day (e.g. Britney Spears’ Crazy, Culture Club’s Karma chameleon, and Ricky Martin’s Living la vida loca). An independent-samples t-test indicated no difference between the tempi of the music in the two conditions.

The research employed an independent subjects design, such that each participant was exposed to only one of the music conditions. Each condition lasted for a total of six nights and was counterbalanced by day of week and week in the year using a Latin square design (see Table 1). All other aspects of the restaurant, such as lighting, decoration, temperature, and menu were held constant throughout the research. The dependent variables investigated were spending on starters, main courses, desserts, coffee, bar drinks, wine, total amount spent on food, total amount spent on drinks, and total overall spend. Each party of diners contributed one data point for each of these variables, with the values calculated by dividing spending by each party within each category by the number of people in that party: The restaurant’s billing system did not allow investigation of spending on a person by person basis. Measures were also taken of the amount of time elapsing between the party being seated and paying their bill, since this represents an obvious confound on customer spending.

Table 1: Presentation order of the three conditions
Day Week 1 (Beginning 18th February 2002) Week 2 (Beginning 25th February 2002) Week 3 (Beginning 4th March 2002)
Monday Classical music  Pop music No music
Tuesday Pop music No music Classical music
Wednesday No music Classical music  Pop music 
Thursday Classical music Pop music  No music
Friday Pop music No music Classical music 
Saturday No music Classical music  Pop music

The research was carried out in a restaurant situated in a Georgian period grade II listed building in the centrally-located square of Market Bosworth (a small affluent town located in the west of Leicestershire, United Kingdom). The restaurant serves high quality freshly prepared ‘à-la-carte’ food at prices well above the market average. The restaurant attracts a mainly upper-middle class clientele. The study was carried out over a period of three continuous weeks for the entire duration of the restaurant’s evening opening hours (Monday to Saturday inclusive from 7pm to approximately 11.30pm). The weeks in which the study was carried out were chosen to avoid any public or school holidays. An experimenter collected data whilst working as a waitress working in the restaurant. 

Results and Discussion

A MANCOVA was carried out to investigate any difference between the conditions in participants’ spending on starters, main courses, desserts, coffee, bar drinks, and wine (controlling for time spent in the restaurant). The main effect of condition was significant F (12, 266) = 2.34, p = 0.007. Means and univariate statistics are presented in Table 2, which indicates that two of the variables, namely spending on starters and coffee, gave rise to differences between the conditions. Three one-way ANCOVAs were then carried out to investigate any differences between the conditions in terms of total spending on drinks, total spending on food, and total spending overall (controlling for time spent in the restaurant). These results of these are presented in Table 2, which indicates that total spending on food and total spending overall differed between the three conditions. 

Table 2: Means (and standard deviations) by music condition and MANOVA and Tukey HSD results

Variable Classical music Pop music No music Total F p
Starters (£) 4.917ab (1.047) 4.038a (1.818) 3.930b (1.834) 4.275 (1.670) 4.17 0.017
Main course (£) 14.720 (1.447) 14.519 (1.344) 14.487 (1.058) 14.571 (1.2840) 0.38 0.684
Dessert (£) 3.424 (1.534)  2.554 (1.818)  2.746 (2.032) 2.892 (1.838) 2.40  0.095
Coffee (£) 1.068a (0.646) 0.802 (0.682) 0.535a (0.772)  0.793 (0.731) 5.41  0.005
Bar (£) 3.510 (2.073) 3.060 (1.607)  2.981 (1.456) 3.174 (1.723)  1.33  0.267
Wine (£) 4.875 (3.928) 4.489 (3.738)  5.054 (4.343) 4.802 (3.990) 0.26 0.771
Total drink (£) 8.385 (4.125) 7.550 (3.336) 8.035 (4.593) 7.975 (4.030)  0.48   0.621
Total food (£) 24.130ab (2.243) 21.912a (2.627) 21.697b (3.332)  22.531 (2.969) 8.89 <0.001
Total spend (£) 32.515ab (4.358) 29.462a (4.248) 29.732b (6.156) 30.507 (5.158) 4.37 0.014

Note: df =2,138 in all cases. Within each row, means marked by matching subscripts differ significantly (p<0.05) 

The means presented in Table 2 indicate that for all significant dependent variables, classical music gave rise to the greatest spending. This is consistent with the findings of Areni and Kim (1993) and North and Hargreaves (1998) who also reported that classical music led to the greatest spending intentions. Furthermore, the present research has achieved this using a sample of the general public purchasing from a range of items in a naturalistic research environment.

The findings of the study have obvious commercial implications for commercial practice; it is possible to utilise background music to increase customer spending. The results presented here also provide undoubted scope for further research using different locations where different musical styles might have different effects on different types of clientele. 

In particular, since the present findings represent the third instance in which classical music has been observed to increase spending intentions, this raises the question of why it is so effective. There are at least three possible explanations. 

The first of these is that classical music was synergistic which other aspects of the restaurant atmosphere, and that this synergy promoted spending. However this cannot explain why North and Hargreaves (1998) found that classical music increased spending in a student cafeteria (in which, as they noted, classical music was not synergistic with other atmospheric variables such as décor). 

A second potential explanation is that in all three studies, classical music was simply preferred by the participants and some form of transfer effect meant that liking for the music fed through into increased spending. Unfortunately neither the present research, nor that by Areni and Kim (1993) and North and Hargreaves (1998) provided data on customers’ musical preferences, such that musical preference remains a possible explanation (although it seems implausible that North and Hargreaves student participants would have preferred classical over pop music). 

A third explanation (which was favoured by Areni and Kim and also North and Hargreaves) is that classical music promotes an ‘upmarket’ atmosphere, and that this primes contextually-appropriate congruent behaviour, namely increased purchase intentions. 

It should be noted that immediately prior to the beginning of the data collection period, the restaurant management decided that customers in the present study could not be approached with a short questionnaire investigating their perception of the restaurant atmosphere. Nevertheless, North and Hargreaves (1998) did provide data directly showing that classical music led to their cafeteria being perceived as more ‘upmarket’ than did other musical styles (including pop), such that this remains an appealing explanation of the present results. Indeed the two courses that gave rise to significant differences between the conditions, namely starters and coffee, are optional items at the beginning and end of the meal. It is tempting to speculate that the diners in the classical music condition decided to treat themselves by spending more on these parts of their meal. Indeed, informal comments made by customers to the experimenter in the restaurant indicated further that classical music promoted a more ‘upmarket’ perception. 

Disentangling these three possible explanations will undoubtedly require laboratory research that sacrifices the ecological validity of field studies for more robust experimental designs that allow competing explanations to be tested against one another: In particular, this laboratory work may also allow more detailed investigation of the neural network-based explanation for such effects proposed by North, Hargreaves, and McKendrick (1997; 1999). In the meantime the present study provides further evidence that classical music can promote customers’ spending in commercial environments.


The authors are grateful to the staff and management of Softleys restaurant for assistance in data collection.


Areni, C. S. and Kim, D. (1993). The influence of background music on shopping behaviour: Classical versus top-forty music in a wine store. Advances in
Consumer Research
, 20, 336-340.

Caldwell, C. and Hibbert, S. A. (1999). Play that one again: The effect of music tempo on consumer behaviour in a restaurant. European Advances in Consumer
, 4, 58-62.

Milliman, R. E. (1982). Using background music to affect the behaviour of supermarket shoppers. Journal of Marketing, 46, 86-91.

Milliman, R. E. (1986). The influence of background music on the behaviour of restaurant patrons. Journal of Consumer Research, 13, 286-289.

North, A. C. and Hargreaves, D. J. (1998). The effect of music on atmosphere and purchase intentions in a cafeteria. Journal of Applied Psychology, 28, 2254-2273.

North, A. C., Hargreaves, D. J. and McKendrick, J. (1997). In-store music affects product choice. Nature, 390, 132.

North, A. C., Hargreaves, D. J. and McKendrick, J. (1999). The influence of in-store music on wine selections. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 271-276.

Roballey, T. C., McGreevy, C., Rongo, R. R., Schwantes, M. L., Steger, P. J., Wininger, M. A. and Gardner, E. B. (1985). The effect of music on eating behaviour. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 23, 221-222.

Turley, L W. and Milliman, R. E. (2000). Atmospheric effects on shopping behavior: A review of the experimental evidence. Journal of Business Research, 49, 193-211.

Pop CD1

1) Club Tropicana - Wham!
2) Sex bomb - Tom Jones
3) S Club party - S club 7
4) Never gonna give you up - Rick Astley
5) Mysterious girl - Peter Andre
6) Too shy - Kadagoogoo
7) Don’t stop never give up - S club 7
8) I swear - Spice Girls
9) Outside - George Michael
10) Reflex - Duran Duran
11) Making your mind up - Bucks Fizz
12) Fast love - George Michael
13) Culture Club -Karma Chamelion
14) Whole again - Atomic Kitten
15) Keep on movin’ - Five
16) Crazy- Britney Spears
17) Could it be magic - Take That
18) Oh ah Just a little bit - Gina Gee
19) Last thing on my mind - Steps
Pop CD2

1) Oops I did it again - Britney Spears
2) Robert De Niro’s waiting - Banarama
3) Knowing me knowing you - Abba
4) Believe - Cher
5) Saturday night - Whigfield
6) Gold - Spandau Ballet
7) Stop - Spice Girls
8) You're the best thing - Style Council
9) One for sorrow - Steps
10) Smooth operator - Sade
11) Spinning around - Kylie
12) The one and only - Chesney Hawkes
13) Girls just want to have fun - Cyndi Lauper
14) If you had my love - Jennifer Lopez
15) Wake me up before you go go - Wham!
16) Livin la vida loca - Ricky Martin
17) Sure - Take That
18) Baby one more time - Britney Spears
Classical CD1

1) Spring - Vivaldi
2) Swan Lake - Tchaikovsky
3) Emperor Waltz - Strauss
4) Serenade - Schubert
5) Bolero - Ravel
6) Concerto for Flute and Harp - Mozart
7) Suite No 3 - Mendelssohn
8) Water Music - Handel
9) Minute waltz - Chopin
10) Nocturne - Chopin
11) Violin Romance - Beethoven
12) Waltz in A flat - Brahms
Classical CD2

1) Symphony No 4 - Brahms
2) Double Violin Concerto - Bach
3) Sarabande - Bach
4) Piano - Beethoven
5) Peer Gynt - Grieg
6) Concerto in B flat - Handel
7) Für Elise - Mozart
8) Waltz - Tchaikoskvy
9) Summer - Vivaldi
10) Mozart - Rondo Alla Turka from Piano Sonata No 11
11) Suite No 3 - Bach
12) Piano Sonata No 8 - Chopin
13) Liebestraum -Liszt

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