Beware the “shuffle” button! I create playlists for all my restaurants. Maybe I’m a control freak, but I love the process. If I have 100 things to do, “Make soundtracks” is the one I’ll jump to first. (Right after “Test these four pasta recipes.”) At each place, it’s the same list every night, in order. So I know it’s 9:45 when Broken Bells comes on at the Dutch ($$$). Playlists are a progression—you want the music to unfold throughout the night, in terms of genres, BPM (beats per minute), the mood you set.
When the restaurant’s full, you shouldn’t really “hear” the music. You’ll know it’s there, but it won’t take over. Then again, if the room is too quiet—you hear waitstaff gossiping, glasses being cleaned—that’s distracting as well. Music fills that sonic space. It actually helps you focus on your conversation. But no 14-minute cuts! It’s annoying when a song is droning on and on while you’re waiting for dessert. You need a fresh track every three to four minutes.