Complaint Desk

Empty House? Perhaps It's Time To Chuck Pandora and Check Your Play List.

Picture this. You've just sat down at one of Dallas' fine dining establishments. Your date looks stunning. The service is cordial. Wine is delivered. And then a sumptuous basket of bread. You use a butter knife to shave some beautifully salted butter and ...

"Hey hey mama say that way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove"

And then Jimmy Page busts into the opening bars of "Black Dog."

No matter. The lights have dimmed, and first courses arrive, punctuated by a delightful amuse bouche. Your focus is on the food, and your date's conversation when you suddenly wonder ...

"Who are you? Who who, who who?"

It's fine. I get it. Classic rock is apparently big in the Dallas restaurants I've visited, and I've got absolutely nothing against the genre. But then a Maroon 5 tracks breaks up main courses and I have to ask who's in charge of the music. The answer is the same at most places I've questioned: Pandora.

Pandora is great. I listen to it at home when I'm too lazy to flip records. (Editor's note: What's a record?) I have a handy iPhone app that keeps me busy when I'm bored on the bus. But I'm not a restaurant looking to create a scene or ambiance for my customers. If I were, I'd take my music selection much more seriously, and take it out of the hands of Pandora.

Besides, Pandora states right on its website that these restaurants are committing a sin.

If you are playing Pandora for yourself while you work, that's great -- it's considered personal use even though you are at work. In fact, a large number of our listeners do this.

On the other hand, if you are playing Pandora over loudspeakers at your business for your clients or customers, this is considered commercial use and is not permitted by our music licenses or Terms of Use.

Nor can we offer commercial licenses for Pandora for any other purpose.

But let's put the matters of royalties, ASCAP and other legalities aside. I'm not a lawyer, and I don't care if unauthorized music play violates the law. I just think using canned play lists reflects poorly on the business smarts of the place. Restaurants spend so much time and money choosing art, paint schemes, booths, fabrics, colors and tones. Why don't they make some effort when designing their play lists as well?

Music can define a place. The Libertine bar caters to a young, post-college crowd, and the music list reflects that. Death From Above 1979, New Order and other such bands played to a packed house when I visited last week. The music matched the clients. It also made the space.

Now imagine cutting into a perfectly cooked steak slathered in Bearnaise while a jingling tambourine signals the start of Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive." Imagine it in a half-filled house. Without a din of dining chatter the mistake becomes even more apparent.

Restaurant managers and owners plagued by empty tables might do well to spend a little more time looking at their tunes. A cool jukebox makes the Windmill Lounge. The Black Friar, like the Libertine, fills its space with music that matches the people who fill its stools. More Dallas restaurants should ditch Pandora and do the same.

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Scott Reitz
Contact: Scott Reitz