To showcase the effect sound and music can have on the food we eat, Bookatable, Europe’s largest restaurant booking platform, has teamed up with Swedish music producer, Axel Boman and leading gastro-physicist Professor Charles Spence to create playlists that are totally in tune, to heighten the taste of restaurant menus. The collaboration marks the launch of Bookatable’s Musical Menus Festival, which took place starting from 27th November 2016.
Professor Spence, world-famous experimental psychologist and gastro-physicist with a specialisation in neuroscience-inspired multisensory design comments: “We have known for years that we can enhance the taste of sweetness, sourness, and bitterness of different foods and drinks by up to 5 – 10%. For instance, songs with high pitched tones bring out the sweet tastes, whereas bitter foods pair well with low pitch tones. What is really exciting about this collaboration with Bookatable, is to take the ‘sonic seasoning’ approach beyond these basic tastes, and focus on even more complex qualities such as the crunchiness, creaminess and even spiciness of certain dishes.”
Bookatable has created the Musical Menus Festival, working with several of its restaurant partners, enabling diners to experience first-hand the effect music has on the taste of food. Every song has been specifically selected to enhance individual tastes in the menu. With everything from soothing sea sounds to improve a seafood dish, a fast-tempo tune to heighten the level of spiciness, or bitter-sweet melody to heighten the contrasting sharp and sweet tastes of a dessert. The collection of restaurants range from French, European and modern British cuisine through to seafood and vegan.
Research commissioned by Professor Spence and the University of Oxford suggests that atmospheric sounds can impact food tastes. Therefore, to enhance the flavours of the fillet of sea-bass at Marco Pierre White Wheeler’s Oyster Bar & Grill Room, Axel opted for the soothing hums of the ocean present of the L. Pierre – 2 Weir’s Way. Studies also show that fast-tempo tracks can heighten the levels of spice in a dish, which is why John Talabot’s Higher Dub remix of Jamie XX – Loud Places, is a perfect fit to heighten the peppery tastes of the spicy, Asian inspired Bento Boxes at RAW at La Suite West.
To end off on a sweet note, we have the desserts. Professor Spence explains how high-pitch, ‘tinkling’ sounds can heighten the sweeter sugary tastes, and low-pitch, ‘bassy’ sounds can bring out the bitter tastes, like coffee or dark chocolate for example. To improve the taste of Cigalon’s Dark Chocolate Tart, Apricot & Lemon Verbena Sorbet, Axel opted for the low-pitches and melodramatic compositions of Daft Punk – Make Love, to bring out the dark chocolate bitterness.
Research commissioned by Bookatable revealed that 40 per cent of Brits don’t pay attention to the background music in restaurants, with 82 per cent of diners being unconvinced different sounds can improve or enhance their meal. Not only does the pitch and tone of music impact the taste and texture of food, but the volume does as well. Research shows that the salty and sweet tastes are less prominent when the background music is booming*. This is undoubtedly something restaurants should pay close attention to, even more so with 65 per cent of diners saying they only enjoy background music if it’s soft enough to easily hear each other talk. In fact, 33 per cent of food lovers said the number one most off-putting factor at a restaurant is overly loud music, with 53 per cent of us admitting to feeling overwhelmed when the volume is too high.
Bookatable’s research also shows that 38 per cent of Brits believe they have a ‘cultured palette’. When taking a closer look at how our other senses influence our dining decisions, 59 per cent of Brits said they’d leave if the restaurant was too cold or hot, and 32 per cent of us would walk out of a restaurant that was badly lit. Only 21 per cent would leave if a restaurant had an unpleasant smell, yet more than half of us (55 per cent) would walk out of a restaurant if the music volume was too high!
When given a choice, 46 per cent of diners prefer eating to music they’re familiar with, two out of five would rather eat to instrumental music without lyrics, and 35 per cent favour pre-recorded tracks oppose to live music. The most popular genres to munch to include ‘easy listening’ which came out top (37 per cent), followed by pop (28 per cent) and classical music (28 per cent). The least favoured categories to listen to while eating were unsurprisingly, electronic (2 per cent), house (1 per cent), and techno (0.9 per cent).
Josephine Ellis, Head of Communications for Bookatable Europe, commented on the Musical Menus Festival: “The dining experience is about much more than great food. At Bookatable we have always known that other elements can play an important role in our enjoyment of the food we eat. Partnering with renowned music producer Alex Boman and leading gastro-physicist, Professor Spence, has allowed us to develop these distinctive musical menus, to demonstrate that all of our senses play a significant role in enhancing the flavour of our food.”