Fast food places have started to play classic music in the evenings – and it’s all for a very serious reason.
Restaurant managers have come to realise that the music has a calming effect on rowdy customers, and may encourage fewer violent interactions.
Customers started to notice this trend growing in McDonald’s, where late-night branches started to play classic music across the speakers rather than the usual pop. The switch to more calming tunes was noticed in Liverpool, Cambridge, Huddersfield, Swansea, London, and Southampton – all of which are areas popular with students and late-night drinkers who may choose to pop in for some fast food on their way out of the clubs.
The late-night burgers and chips are more usually bought by adults on their way out, who are already partway through their night out, or are on their way home. Families tend to eat earlier in the day, as do people who just want something quick after leaving work.
The idea makes sense. After all, having Chopin or Debussy playing in the background does make for a much more calming atmosphere. It also creates a certain sense of old-fashioned decorum, which may encourage customers to keep their behaviour within acceptable limits instead of going over the top. Someone with a job in research and development clearly thought that there was one very subtle way to prevent property damage or assaults against staff, which can also create an unfriendly atmosphere for patrons who aren’t looking for trouble.
McDonalds have since confirmed that they were deliberately playing the music as a way of combating anti-social behaviour. Stockport councillor Philip Harding commented that the music might have a special effect on those who were out to make trouble. He suggested that “[customers] would disperse as it’s not their scene.”
Creating a New Atmosphere
So, would you be more tempted to consider McDonalds when looking for food jobs if you knew it would have a classier soundtrack? Would it even work?
There have been suggestions that a switch to a gentler accompaniment could even encourage a different kind of patron to walk through the doors. Could lovers of Classic FM be tempted through the doors when they hear the faint strains of Mozart calling them on?
The truth is that it is unlikely, although the music may well have a slight effect on behaviour. This may be an effect that wears off over time once people know to expect the classical music in the evenings.
There’s also a certain caution which music lovers will already be thinking about. Not all classical music, despite the stereotype, is gentle and soothing. Some of it can sound downright violent, especially when it was used to depict scenes of war, great passion, and violence from history and opera. These particular works might not be the right choice when it comes to calming the customers down.
There’s also potential that the wrong music could even turn customers off. It has been found that major keys will create a happier mood, while minor moods can create a more sombre reaction. As the effect of music on the brain is linked to serotonin uptake and a number of other factors, the use of quiet and calm strings could even induce customers to give up the idea of grub and just head home.
“We have tested the effects of classical music in the past and played it in some of our restaurants as it encourages more acceptable behaviour,” said a spokesperson for McDonald’s. “Typically, classical music would be played from early evening onwards and, in some cases, on certain nights in a small number of restaurants.”