Yeah. We know. We’d like to know, too.
We have to answer lots of questions during our Prague food tours but some of them are asked more often than others. “Why do they only play old American music in restaurants here? And why is it 80s or 90s music?” Oh, if we had a nickel for every time somebody asked us this question on the tour, we’d have… well, it would be enough to buy a discounted Ace of Base CD for sure.
The truth is that if Prague lags behind other cool cities around the world in something, it’s the soundtracks played in Prague restaurants. Whenever we travel abroad and visit a cool place, that’s the first thing that hits us. Sure, there are exceptions: The Tavern plays a killer soundtrack whenever we come in, and SaSaZu can play some cool tunes on a night (and pretty bad ones on another). Kavárna Místo can find a nice playlist on most of the days. But the rest? It gives you the standing to sue for pain and suffering. At least if you are as sensitive to it as we are.
But it’s high time somebody did something about it, or at least identified the worst crimes against taste and humanity committed in Prague restaurants and cafes. And offered suggestions. That’s what we’ll try to do in this post.
CRIME No. 1: CZECH MUSIC IS NOT COOL
Let's learn by example: During our tours, we visit a wine bar. The music that plays there never ceases to boggle our mind. We come for Czech wines, and we get them. With a big side order of Motown sounds. We’re talking James Brown. The Jacksons. Stevie Wonder. Two weeks ago, we listened through the entire “Curtis” by Curtis Mayfield. Don’t get us wrong. We love Curtis Mayfield. When we play it at home or on our iPod. Just not with Czech wines. We always make a joke of it: “We come here for Czech wines… …and the sweet sounds of Marvin Gaye.” Yes, people laugh. But inside, we cry.
But one time, they heard us talk about it and switched to what must have been a compilation album by Vaclav Neckar, one of most popular Czech singers of the 60s through the 80s. It wasn’t bad, and our guests loved it. And we could talk about his career. They even played a compilation album of Karel Gott, which is a phenomenon of its own, the Czech Tom-Jones-meets-Sinatra-they-have-Barry-Manilow-as-a-kid monster loved by all moms and grand-moms (and less by the daughters), and you know what? It wasn’t a catastrophe either. And we know for a fact that one of the managers played a killer album by Peter Lipa, a Slovak jazz vocalist, in the smaller location of that bar. It was fun and fit perfectly with the atmosphere of the place.
CRIME No. 2: ELEVATOR MUSIC
What also really drives us nuts is elevator music in restaurants. Pure filler, and just like most filler, it’s tasteless. One example for all: the “Bossa Nova Rolling Stones” album played on infinite loop at Cestr, which we otherwise really love. Think Rolling Stones, but without the energy, the drive and the atmosphere. Just an asthmatic lady whispering the lyrics of Honky Tonk Women to a slow, bossa nova arrangement. What’s next? “Kenny G plays AC/DC classics”? Thank you but no, thank you.
If you do not know what to play, or you just want to play the lowest common denominator, we have a tip for you: silence. It at least has the power to heal heavily damaged ears. We actually think lobotomy is required from all the staff that wants to work at Cestr because nothing else will do to tolerate this blasphemy… on infinite loop. Do you know how it feels listening to the soundtrack all over again? Have you ever waited for two hours in the line for the “It’s a small world after all” ride in Disney Worlds? Yeah, that’s how it feels. Anyway, Cestr serves delicious food, so why the music? The lowest-common-denominator approach to music does not help anyone, and insults pretty much everyone.
CRIME No. 3: LET THEM HEAR WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR
The restauranteur is responsible for the food the restaurant serves. The chef makes a decision about the food, and if the food is good, people will come. So why does this not apply to music? Classic example: Italian eateries in Prague really just play what the think Czechs want to hear, which means horrible Italian pop music from the 80s that nobody in Italy listens to: Ricchi e poveri, Toto Cutugno (if we hear Lasciate mi cantare one more time, we think we are going to hang ourselves on a piece of spaghetti) and all that. While again, the alternatives are aplenty. Paolo Conte. Come on. Everybody loves that guy. And what about the American Italians? Tony Bennet. Even Sinatra. Who does not like those? It seems that people here got stuck in the 70s, 80s and the 90s, and there is very little willingness to play something older or younger than that.
We think this approach stems from Czech radios, whose main concern, especially the Czech public stations, is “not to offend”. “The main objective is to play music that will not force the listener to switch to another station,” once said the director of the radio when asked. Which meant that they play lots of ABBA. Because everybody likes ABBA, right? This approach is wrong.
CRIME No. 4: LET THEM HEAR WHAT WE WANT TO HEAR
The opposite of Crime No. 3. Here’s the line of thought: “We will play what we like to play, and if our customers are like us, everything will turn out okay." This approach actually works quite well if the restaurant owners and staff really align their tastes with the customers. The Tavern plays cool, hip rock songs because it is run - and frequented - by people who listen to cool, hip rock songs.
In other cases, not so much. We have a cafe we love, and like the baristas a lot. But the music they play… well, let’s just say it oscillates from okay to really bad. We would never think we would listen to Boney M in a hipster cafe. (If you don’t know what Boney M is, good for you.)
Fine dining restaurants in Prague are the worst. It seems like all the staff had their ear drums pierced the very first day on job. We were sitting in a restaurant not a long time ago, enjoying our fairly expensive dinner. We’re eating a complicated and delicious dish of lobster and watermelon, only to listen to… La Isla Bonita by Madonna. What is that? This place clearly has Michelin-star ambitions, and lots of investments went into the room and the kitchen and the sourcing of materials and the wine… and then you listen to Ace of Base.
While the answer is so easy. Classical music. If you need to play something, why not make it something that everyone can agree on? It works perfectly in Mash Hana, one of our favorite places for sushi in Prague. You walk in and it’s always something nice: Dvorak, Debussy, and other composers whose names don’t necessarily start with a D. Nobody complains, it creates a nice atmosphere and actually elevates the experience in the slightly shabby interiors. So our answer to fine dining is easy: either classical music, or nothing at all.
Now, it would be unfair and very easy just to criticize. We understand that restauranteurs have so much on their hands, music can be the last thing on their mind. That is why we came up with a few demands we will be forcing Prague restaurants to follow.
- Think about music. Don’t just let be filler. It is more important than that. We understand you may have blown your last money on interior design, but music is just as important.
- Don’t go for the lowest common denominator. Take a stand. You do that with the food, anyway. You should do the same thing with the music.
- While we get you may like some type of music personally, make sure it is aligned with the customers you get. A restaurant is a place for the customer, not the staff. And please, Boney M is not the answer. Ever.
- Playing a radio station out loud is forbidden. It means you haven’t tried hard enough.
- Play more Czech music. Locals like it, and foreign visitors will appreciate it.
- If you cannot adhere to the above, turn the music off altogether. Silence is nice, actually.
Now, we know what you’re thinking: blah blah blah. Everyone can be critical. But have you ever tried compiling a playlist for an eatery? Actually, we have. To put money where our mouth is, we have compiled a few Spotify playlists for your pleasure and use. (We know many restaurants use them anyway.) We honestly don’t have much time for this, and these are works-in-progress, but it should be a start. So there you go.
The playlists are:
Pub. The idea is to go with "guys' songs". Rock'n'roll music. Something fun and loud. Male bonding and whatnot. Sadly, Spotify doesn't carry the "Bezvadnej clap" song by Vltava. Otherwise it would open the playlist. We hate Kabat, a Czech rock legend, but we included it there, anyway.
Wine bar I and Wine bar II. The first wine bar playlist reflects the customers: Czechs who want to have fun, many of them women. Older fun Czech hits are perfect in our mind. The second playlist refers to Moravia where 96% of all wines in the Czech Republic come from. Folksy, calm, great for a smaller wine bar between the rush hours.
Fine dining restaurant. Czech classical music. It's good. It's local. It will lift your spirit... and profits.
If the customers don’t do anything about it, no-one will. If you hear bad music in a restaurant, demand a change! We know we will. Together, we shall prevail. #goczech