Hospitality that means business: Why good food isn’t enough

For Stu Robertson, owner of hospitality consultancy Mean Business, his philosophy on customer experience is that every customer needs to leave a restaurant better and happier than when they came in. Having a good meal simply isn’t enough; it’s about the overall experience.

With a background in marketing, working with top Kiwi brands such as Sanitarium Weet-Bix, New Zealand Rugby Union, and ANZ, Stu’s career shifted into the food industry when he came on as a general manager for iconic New Zealand chef, Al Brown. It was here that he began to see the value in bringing business thinking to hospitality and realised that there were a huge number of food businesses struggling to make ends meet. Quickly making a name for himself as a hospitality specialist, today he helps hospitality businesses balance both effectiveness and profitability.

Music is a huge part of creating the ambience that can achieve this for businesses, and Stu says that getting sound right is a critical part of creating a brand experience. If you’ve walked into Best Ugly Bagels, you’ll know that the music is loud, the energy is high, and workers call out when orders are ready – fostering a feeling of high energy, and ultimately leaving a lasting impact for customers.

Stu Robertson Mean Business

Mean Business also works to incorporate sound in spaces in more creative ways too. In a recent Wellington project working with a large food hall, Stu prioritised having plenty of high-quality speakers to distribute sound effectively. The food hall invested in music playlists as part of a larger sound plan, meaning the music spanning across the day features transitions between different tempos and volumes to really build an effective customer experience.

Stu says that for other hospitality businesses, creating the right vibe with music could start by simply obtaining a OneMusic licence and investing in a good quality sound system.

Stu also suggests that starting early and planning is key to create strong foundations in business. Investing in a specialist to design the sound system, pairing it with soft furnishings and anything else needed to improve the acoustics in the space will make a huge difference.

In his advisory work, Stu came across an example of a café establishing a strong foundation from the beginning. He was working with Circus Eatery in Cambridge which was just starting out. They had great product and wanted to build profitability but were at crossroads when it came to spending money on acoustic baffling. Stu’s advice was this expense should be top of the list.

People need to be able to converse and to hear the music otherwise there’s a risk the customer experience would be diluted.

Investing and therefore contributing to this experience by way of music and acoustics is a really simple option and this is something Circus Eatery is always striving to perfect.

They have no regrets with their decision to get a decent sound system and with their OneMusic licence, they are proud to be part of a system that sees artists provided for.

Although there are venues getting it right when it comes to selecting the right music to create the vibe they are after, Stu says this is actually a lot harder to achieve than it might seem.

“Music is so subjective, and what I think is going to be good music for a venue could be entirely different to what the owner, customer or staff thinks.” He suggests that it comes down to having experience in understanding the brand, and how it needs to be translated through music.

It’s one of those things that when it’s done well you don’t notice it, but when it’s done badly you really notice it.

Stu believes that the New Zealand hospitality scene is as good as anywhere else in the world, but he’s always looking for new concepts and designs that could be used as inspiration locally.

Ultimately, he says that customers want to be guided in the restaurant, and creating an uplifting environment visually and through music is what will create a memorable experience that will bring people back.


Learn more about the music licenses we have available for your business here.