Walk into any Sweetgreen restaurant and alongside your locally grown mesclun topped with organic dressing you’re likely to get a helping of Hot Chip - the band, not the food.
“Music for us is part of our DNA,” says Jonathan Neman, the 27-year-old co-founder of the Washington restaurant chain. In fact, he and his two partners care so much about the music that plays in their dozen locations, they personally crafted the playlists, creating eclectic blends that run from The Cure to today’s British indie Blood Orange.
“When you’re dining the food is important, the smell is important, the way it looks is important. And what you’re listening to is important,” he said.
Until recently, many restaurants were content to turn on the radio or let the manager fire up his iPod. But for a growing number of foodies and restaurateurs, what’s on the playlist is almost as important as what’s on the menu.
Custom playlists that pair tunes to tastes - created by the restaurateurs themselves or by companies devoted to the task - are becoming de rigueur in the food industry as more chefs and their customers seek dining experiences that are harmonious and hip at every turn.
Less than a decade ago, only luxury restaurants paid special attention to the music that accompanied their foams and gelees, says Michael Smith, chief executive officer of The Playlist Generation, a Los Angeles-based creator of custom playlists. At New York’s three Michelin star Le Bernardin, a light waft of Brazilian artist Antonio Carlos Jobim or down tempo jazz creates an atmosphere as sophisticated as the wasabi risotto and peekytoe crab. At Alinea, the Chicago temple of theatrical molecular gastronomy, chef Grant Achatz has contemplated having servers choreograph their motions to the music of a live cellist.
But as the need to be noticed in a crowded culinary landscape has increased, those in the playlist industry say the trend has filtered down to casual dining establishments and even to national chains.