live musicians

The 8 Steps to Adding Live Music to Your Restaurant

Mommi Raw Bar and Grill on Clapham High Street is a contemporary and creative restaurant that mixes Japanese and South American ingredients in a fun atmosphere. “I guess we are quirky, cozy, design-focused,” says Sam Harris of Mint Group which owns Mommi. “It’s eclectic.” On Friday and Saturday nights, the dining room becomes a party with live music courtesy of local bands that set up in a corner of the space. These performances, called “Mommi Does Music”, have become a popular event at the restaurant and the bands play a mix of pop, rock and funk music until one or two in the morning.

Harris says the nights came about when the team was brainstorming ways to attract guests to their bar after dinner service. “We have a separate, stand-alone bar and a great sound system so we thought, ‘what can we do after dinner’,” she remembers.  

Introducing live music to a dinner or brunch service is a great way to attract guests to your restaurant but there are a lot of technical aspects that have to be considered to make it work. Below, Harris shares a game plan for restaurants to add live music to their repertoire.

First, make sure you have the right licensing to play music.

Entertainment licensing allows restaurants to play live music so you want to make sure that you’ve got that covered. “We have three licenses that we pay annually,” says Sam Harris. This site gives you a great overview of what you need and the process to get the licenses that you need.

Second, think about what kind of music makes sense for your space and then do research.

“I would say it’s important to do your homework when working with a musician because they have to match your restaurant,” Harris says. At Mommi, the atmosphere is casual and fun so bands that play a mix of rock, funk and pop music make the most sense. Look at your dining room playlists to get a sense of what kind of music works best. Also, think about how much space you can afford for the band because that will determine how big the band can be.

Third, ask bands for a set list and what technical equipment they need for a show.

Before you book an artist, you need to be sure that they understand your restaurant and what you’re looking for. At Mommi, Harris and the management team will ask for potential bands for a sample set list and what equipment they need to do a show . “We meet with them, vet them, listen to their music and talk about the technical requirements,” she says. If the team feels like the band would work well in that space, Harris will ask for a sample list of what they’ll play. “We’ll ask set a dummy list of 3 45 minute sets and see how the songs progress as the evening goes on.” The point of asking for a sample set is because the music starts at 9pm and there are still dinner guests in the dining room. Harris says it’s important to ensure that the music matches the atmosphere of the evening. “We say to artists be mindful of our diners and that it’s still dinner time,” she says. “As the night goes on we ramp it up. We try to segway from eating to dancing.” Dinner guests don’t want to hear rock and roll, they want something in the background while they finish their meals. Getting a sample set list will help you ensure that guests are comfortable.

(This is also a great time to ask bands about how they’d like to paid. Harris says how they get paid varies. “Some of our chaps are on a flat fee basis, others we motivate with a fixed cut of a pre-agreed revenue uplift after a certain time. All of our performers have offered to trial for free and some agencies have also waived their cut initially to get their acts through the door.”)

Fourth, have a trial run for bands on a slower night.

At Mommi, bands must play a Friday night before they get booked for a Saturday. Harris says this is because Saturday nights are busier and the team wants to be sure that a band is a good fit before they bring them into the fold of “Mommi Does Music”. “We do a trial on a Friday night and we get feedback from a manager and the kitchen as well as upper level management so we get different perspectives.” The team wants to see how the band interacts with guests and staff. “They need to be able to project, they need to be able to engage, they need to have charisma, personality as well as being talented,” Harris says.

Fifth, make sure your servers are ready to serve while the music is going on.

“There’s nothing more annoying than singing a song and a server comes up asking questions,” laughs Harris. At Mommi the staff is trained to alert dinner guests to the fact that there’s going to be live music happening and they know when to take food or drink orders so as not to disturb the guests’ experience. “It’s all about having a staff that’s clued in,” Harris says. Making sure your staff is trained in this way will make the experience way more enjoyable for your guests. Staff can also make sure that guests don’t camp out for hours at their table after dinner. “For our servers it’s awareness that we do music on our busiest night so we need to be aware of a turn times and see what we need to do for them,” Harris says. “The servers say at that time ‘can we move you to the bar?’ We have seats there.”  It’s about communicating to our diners what’s going on. “There’s nothing worse than sitting and the lights drop.”

Sixth, speaking of lights, make sure that yours are conducive to dining and music playing.

One of the biggest challenges for Mommi is that fact that the open kitchen requires lighting in the dining room. When “Mommi Does Music” started, the team had a hard time figuring out the right lighting for the dining room because the heat lamps were so bright while the rest of the dining room was lowered to accommodate the musicians.  “It’s quite challenging as an operator because the dining experience changes and you use lighting to create that atmosphere,” Harris says. “The open-plan kitchen they need light to see and plate with garnish so we’ve had to be quite creative.” The heat lamps had to be turned off so food needed to be run faster from the kitchen to the dining room. “We actually had to put on an extra food runner because the pass light is so bright and the food can’t wait under it.” The solution was two fold: “We have to reallocate our staff that night and we now have presets for our lighting.”

Seventh, constantly be seeking out new talent.

Bands break up, or go on tour or take a season off to record music so don’t put all of hopes into one band. “Never put your eggs in one basket,” Harris warns. “We had a band we loved and they went on tour and we had to find someone else quickly.” Spend a half an hour or so a week looking up new talent or ask bands that you like if they can recommend another band that might be a good fit. “Always seek out new talent. We tend to book two months in and try to have three new people a month and we’re always adding to that.” Having a roster of bands keeps you covered in case one can’t show up.

Eighth, be communicative with your social media fans about live music at your restaurant.

It took about four months for Mommi to see an increase in sales after they introduced live music. The key was offering it consistently on Friday and Saturday nights and sharing that information with the restaurant’s Instagram and Facebook followers. “We schedule live music 6 weeks out because people have an expectation that we’re going to do it.” It also lets guests who aren’t interested in live music know that they might want to go somewhere else that night. For Harris it’s added to the Mommi spirit of being a big party. “It makes people have fun,” she says. “It adds extra warmth, personality, vibe and atmosphere. It puts a buzz in the air.”

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