Ollie’s Modern Life

This month, piped restaurant music is putting Ollie Peart right off his grub


Sound organised in time, if delivered with particularly euphonious melodies in rhythmical formations that somehow manage to infiltrate your nervous system, causing goosebumps, amorous sentiments to a nearby stranger and for you to dance like a tit, is wondrous.

I am of course talking about music, a human tradition for absolutely bloody ages. I could give you exact dates, but let’s just say that there’s a flute carved out of bone that wikipedia says is 41,000 years old. Since Fred Flintstone and his blow-the-bone orchestra, we have perfected the art of music notation, instrument craft and have developed multiple musical genres such as classical, indie rock and future garage.

The complexity, variety and diversity of music is the great thing about it. There is literally something for everybody, a smorgasbord of tonal delights: vibrations that literally move the air around us, which in turn vibrates our eardrum, which moves our ossicles, which amplify the sound, sending waves to our cochlea, where they become electrical impulses, which the auditory nerve sends to the brain, which the brain then translates into sound, somehow altering your state of mind in a way that I am unable to explain. It’s about as close to magic as we are likely to see on planet Earth.

So why then, when listening and hearing music is such an incredible feat of natural engineering, do so many eating establishments insist on shitting out mediocre bullshit music that makes me want to grab my fish knife and scrape out my ossicles?

Let me be clear: eating out is a pleasure and a privilege. But when we pop to a restaurant – whether it’s a michelin star dry-ice kinda place or ZiiZii’s – we are doing so because we’ve decided that our hard-earned cash is going towards not cooking and not washing up. We want to be waited on and served, and for good reason.

Sure, the first reason is to eat, but one of the things that cooking and washing up get in the way of is conversation. If you’re the one cooking, you’re distracted. Even if you’re waiting 20 minutes for the potatoes to finish roasting, you’re still thinking about those potatoes and not listening to your partner who’s telling you about their dreadful week. It can be a bit of a pain, and I am convinced that people who love cooking do so because they’re on their own. It’s their “me” time.

The point is, we don’t go to a restaurant just to eat. We go for the atmosphere, the buzz, the babble. We go for the artificial space that is created and perfected to fuel conversation. No obstacles, no distractions, just you and your partner, friends or family. It’s the reason a typical gastro style fish and chips costs £12 even though you know for sure it probably cost them £1 to produce. But we don’t mind, because... atmosphere...

Along the line of this “space creating” however, the memo about the music got lost. It got lost in a big pile of “Italian Cafe” and “Indian Restaurant” CDs. I’ve had several run ins with piped music over the last few months, all for different reasons. Generic world music with very loud, high pitched shouting and yelling in what is essentially a French brasserie. Heavy, stupid, loud, shit rock pumped out at 10:30am over a brunch. The Spice Girls at a very smart pub, in the beer garden.

Everything has been carefully thought about aside from the music. Massive effort has gone into catching my fish, delivering to the restaurant, making the batter, frying it, cutting the potatoes, triple frying them and sending them out to me on carefully sourced, aesthetically pleasing plates that can stand up to the rigours of an industrial dishwasher. But then you blow it at the last second by shitting directly into my ears. You might as well vomit on a plate and kick your customers right in the jaffers.

Restaurant owners, know this: no one, not a single person who has been eating their food in your establishment stopped for a moment and exclaimed to their party and nearby tables, “Ooo, I love this song”. It’s background, it’s atmosphere and it should never try and be anything else. If you put on music that you think makes you work better, or a song that you like to listen to at home, don’t put it on. No one wants to hear it. No one cares, not in the slightest. You are ruining what is otherwise a sublime experience, tarnishing your reputation, tainting your food. If it doesn’t enhance the experience, turn it off.

I love music. There is no doubt about that, but its sheer complexity, variety and diversity is the reason we have earphones. My train journey is a pleasure when I listen to my carefully selected music, wistfully looking out of the window as if starring in a film all of my own. Blast it out to the rest of the carriage however and I suspect I would ruin their day, make them angry and would expect nothing short of a serious telling off.

It’s called “piped music” for a reason, it’s shit.

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