The Sound of Taste

You know why they have music in restaurants? Because it changes the taste of everything.  This point was made recently by chef and resident science pro at America’s Test Kitchen, Dan Souza.  He presented taste test expert Jack Bishop with two samples of chocolate while playing a different sound bite of music for each sample. Bishop expressed a favorable liking for the first sample which he described as “good chocolate…with some roasted notes… something I would eat more of” compared to sample two which he described as “hipster chocolate…too bitter for me…a little too much.” Souza then informed Bishop that the two samples were actually the same. What was different? The music Souza played while Bishop tasted the samples.

Souza explained to Bishop that “sound around you influences how you perceive the food that you eat. Higher pitched music can make food taste sweeter. Lower pitched music can actually make it taste more sour or bitter.”

Surely restaurateurs know this, or do they? If they do, it is most likely determined at an unconscious level and is based mostly on intuition. Add to this, research shows that 80% of flavor is made up of scent, and you have an example of commingling of the senses which is referred to as synesthesia.

There is a small percentage of people referred to as synesthetics who possess the ability to experience the world around them by commingling all the senses. Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you should aim to be a synesthetic or that synesthesia is a state of being to strive for. In fact, quite the opposite. Synesthesia is rare and could be unnerving.

Imagine always being aware of how each sense is influencing your perception of everything you do. That said, the more vividly you engage the senses with various sensory impressions, the broader your neurological contacts in your brain. In other words, even though we may not be consciously aware of it, a variety of sensory input can and does influence our perceptions.

Think about the impact smell and sound had on the taste of the chocolate. Consider the broad variety of examples in our language; red is ‘hot’, blue is ‘cool’, a female voice is ‘sweet’, the air is ‘salty’, to name just a few.

If synesthesia is not the goal then what should be done to strengthen the management of sensory input for our clients and customers? The following exercise can help you build your ability to describe and by doing so direct conscious attention to each of the senses. It will increase your awareness of your clients unconscious and intuitive elements of perception. For this exercise you will need your cell phone and a recording app. For starters, begin by describing the physical surroundings of the room you are in. Speak your description aloud into recording app in your phone. It is imperative that you speak the description aloud. Describe each sensory aspect of the room. What does it look like, sound like, taste like (yes, that one will be hard), smell like, feel like? Do this for a room in your home, your office, your store, the backyard. There is no right or wrong description. Just speak it aloud into the recorder. Next, describe objects, people, your pet. Do this every day. After two weeks or so, start listening to the recordings. You will be amazed at the statements you made. It will give you incredible insight and strengthen your ability to consider the synesthetic impact of any situation, place or thing. This in turn will enhance your own intuitive ability to positively influence the Sense-sational Customer Experience.

Wes Miller is the president of Training for Results LLC. He has been in the training and development industry for nearly three decades and has overseen customer service initiatives at multiple Las Vegas Strip resorts and provided consulting services for countless others. He is the host of the podcast “Sense-sational Customer Experiences” which can be accessed Email Wes

May 26, 2019
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