Craft Your Ambience with Audio
When you operate a pizzeria, your product is much more than a delicious slice of pie. You’re selling an experience, a specific ambience. You can’t always rely on food alone to bring customers back, so cultivate the right atmosphere to captivate your preferred clientele. One critical way to establish your brand is with music.
We spoke with some experts in the commercial audio industry to find out what pizzeria operators need to know when they’re buying or upgrading their audio systems. Here’s how you can get the best bang for your buck while enlisting the power of music to appeal to your ideal customers.
Why Music Matters
The music is one of the first things a customer will notice when they set foot in your place, so it is a powerful tool for setting the tone.
Music establishes the mood, says Nathan Turner, assistant sales manager and senior engineer at Pro Acoustics, a Texas-based online audio equipment retailer for commercial spaces. “Are we entering a traditional Italian-influenced pizzeria? A high-end elegant, artisan pizzeria? A family-friendly, fun environment? A sports-bar-influenced party restaurant?” He suggests that the right music will “reinforce your pizzeria’s identity and communicate the desired message, which can help encourage your customers to stay longer and spend more.”
“When the music fits the target audience, it creates a connection between the consumer and the venue,” says Yaprak Unsalan, managing director of Jukeboxy Music for Business, “so we always recommend playing music that matches your clientele rather than your favorite tunes.” She says music even “significantly impacts how we perceive flavors. For example, high-pitched sounds are associated with sweetness, whereas low-pitched sounds bring out a bitter taste.”
What to Consider When Selecting an Audio System
Since music plays such an essential role in a pizzeria’s success, experts recommend investing in a quality sound system. They also advise you to consult with an audiovisual designer. You may be tempted to get the same sound system you love at home, but it won’t necessarily shine in a commercial setting.
Turner advises “use commercial-grade audio equipment. It may run ten to 16-plus hours per day, depending on your schedule, so it’s important to have audio components built with longevity in mind. Some commercial audio equipment may have one-year, two-year, five-year or ten-year warranties on certain components so that you can upgrade your system once and not have to worry about replacing hardware again and again.”
As Unsalan points out, “a pizzeria has a faster table turnover than a traditional restaurant with many in-and-out people. The sound system should cover the mixture of sounds, such as the clatter of plates, ringing phones, voices — without deafening people. This is best achieved with commercial sound systems.”
Most operators are aware that licensing agreements prevent restaurants from simply playing CDs or the radio, under commercial use restrictions. “It´s considered a public performance,” says Mark Lehman, vice president and general manager at CloudCover Media, a Pandora Media Co. “You’ve gotta have a legal source for the music.”
Clarify Your Goals
Think about what you want the music to achieve, in addition to contributing to your ambience. You can use music to keep people staying or leaving depending on your priorities. “A fast tempo and slightly louder music make people move faster, while slow-tempo music makes them stay longer,” says Unsalan. Or as Lehman puts it, “certain times of day you want butts in seats, and during rush you want just the opposite.” Music is your secret weapon to influence your pizzeria’s pace.
You can also use upbeat, poppy music to keep your employees motivated and energized, or quiet, clear background music to increase the elegance factor. Lastly, think about any future expansions. Do you plan to add TVs for sports? Is karaoke in your future? These options will impact your audiovisual design.
Consider Room Size and Layout
The general concept for commercial audio hasn’t changed much. “You need a source or storage device for music and an amplifier that’ll actually get the signal pushed out to your set of two or four speakers,” says Lehman, “and possibly a second amplifier and set of speakers for the back of the house, which is often overlooked.”
Consider whether you have special zones that will need to be addressed individually, such as a private dining room or an outdoor patio. “Zoning in different areas is also very popular now, sometimes with different music playing in certain areas or with different volumes,” says Turner.
What’s New in the Commercial Audio World
Bluetooth wireless technology is the biggest shift in commercial audio in recent years. “Many pizzerias like to incorporate wireless music streaming via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth from their personal device,” says Turner. “We can add this feature to any system, or they can easily plug in a media streaming box like an XM radio receiver or other wired source.”
He also notes that “many systems now offer smart phone control, where you can adjust volumes and sound levels without going back to the main rack while also allowing you to stream back to the primary system wirelessly.”
Unsalan observes that “wireless speakers are trending for sure, especially within small-size venues. They don’t require cabling and construction, which could be costly. There are great options with excellent sound distribution, but wireless speakers rely on a steady wireless network. If the network is unstable, these speakers will keep cutting off and even worse, stop working.”
Lehman suggests that a very small FOH with just a couple of tables might be adequately served with a simple Bluetooth speaker. With no wires and no amplifier, this is a simple and attractive option for some small spaces.
How Much You Should Expect to Spend
The budget range varies widely, according to Turner. “We have small, simple-to-use background music systems for small square footage that start at $500 or so. Or we have systems that can run north of five figures, depending on the size of the space, the level of technology we want to integrate, and how rocking of a package you would like to build.” For example, pizzerias with a sports bar or nightlife environment need “larger speakers with more amplifiers, which ultimately translates to more dollars.”
Lehman urges operators not to “cheap out.” Some buyers resist spending an extra $25-$30 per speaker, but “no one’s ever gonna remember that you saved 120 bucks. People will remember always that it doesn’t sound good in there. It’s an expense that only comes around every 15 or 20 years because this stuff is designed to last forever.”
Don’t forget to include installation costs in your budgeting process. “The labor of getting the sucker installed is equal to the cost of the hardware in many instances,” says Lehman, especially with increased fuel surcharges for installing outside of major metropolitan areas.
Finally, Lehman reminds buyers to get a manufacturer’s warranty and make certain their installer is licensed and insured.
People eat with all the senses, so be sure to appeal to their ears with the right music, along with your signature package of fabulous fragrance and tantalizing taste. The right audio system for your square footage, layout and budget will help you build customer loyalty and a successful business.
Annelise Kelly is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer.