A cheap and cheerful lesson for the music world

Dido got them to splash out; the White Stripes saw spending fall by 5 per cent
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It's rather wonderful, bearing in mind all the expensive surveys that take place in the arts, that one of the most interesting pieces of research has been carried out free of charge. Amber Shilcock, a psychology student at Leicester University, took her CD player to a restaurant in Market Bosworth, played different kinds of music and noted how the sounds affected the diners' spending.

They're a cultured lot in Leicestershire. When classical music was played, the average spend was £24; when Britney Spears and other pop stars were played, spending decreased to around £22; when no music was played, spending declined still further to £21.70 per head.

Ms Shilcock's tutors invested these findings with the necessary psychological and sociological significance. Adrian North, senior lecturer in psychology at the university, was quoted this week as saying: "When you hear a piece of music it activates all types of associations. If you hear classical music it has got all the connotations of sophistication, affluence and wealth. In a restaurant this has the effect of making you spend a bit more."

That at least explains why interval drinks are so expensive at the Royal Opera House. But I'm not sure I agree with Mr North. Nowadays, surely, it is rock, with its corporate following among the now affluent Sixties generation, which has those connotations of sophistication, affluence and wealth. Just think of those £165 seats for the Rolling Stones' recent gigs. Audiences for classical music at the Royal Festival Hall look distinctly down at heel in comparison.

It's more likely that it is the soothing effect of the familiar and perhaps unchallenging classical music that is played in restaurants which lures diners into staying longer and thus spending more. But I might well be wrong, and it would be foolish for the arts world to dismiss the Market Bosworth experiment. The lesson of it seems to be that while audiences for traditional classical music concerts become ever smaller that same music inspires restaurant goers. How can venues, promoters and orchestras take advantage of this?

The answer, I'm afraid, flies in the face of the politically correct orthodoxy of the last decade. For years, arts venues from the Royal Opera House and Barbican downwards have gone out of their way to stress the egalitarianism of classical music and opera, the open access and the cheap seats (stretching the truth on that last one admittedly). But if Market Bosworth is to be believed, this has been the wrong approach. It might indeed be the case that the public enjoys associating classical music with higher spending - with a chic, romantic evening out, with dressing up.

This is going to mean a drastic philosophical rethink in arts marketing. Who in the arts is brave enough to try and sell an art form on the premise that it is a good one to dress up for and spend a little extra on? The venues where that is undoubtedly true do their best to keep quiet about it.

Perhaps Market Bosworth has another message for classical music promoters: food and drink are a stimulant to enjoying the art form. They know this at Glyndebourne, where the audience's enjoyment is always more intense (or at least the faces are ruddier) after the 90-minute dinner interval. Concert halls might need to find a way of integrating the dining experience with the music, even if it is just a case of allowing wine to be consumed during the performance. Ms Shilcock has given classical music promoters plenty to think about. But perhaps these things depend on where you do the research. I have now conducted my version of Ms Shilcock's research in my own neighbourhood. At the Pinner Tea Rooms the patrons know what they like. Dido had them splashing out on extra scones all round; the White Stripes saw spending fall by 5 per cent; and Schoenberg proved a powerful laxative.

¿ I think I might have the solution to the vexed question of booking fees, the bane of every theatregoer's life. A reader, David Loshak, has forwarded to me his fascinating correspondence with Really Useful Theatres, which own some of the best known West End venues. Mr Loshak asked why he had to pay booking fees. He was told by a customer relations co-ordinator, Ian Johnson: "Our services fees are levied in order to provide a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week centralised booking facility to satisfy the increasing demand from customers wishing to book by telephone from the comfort of their own homes."

Here's the deal. If Really Useful Theatres stop charging booking fees, I'm sure that we theatregoers can desist from booking tickets between midnight and 6am. It will be tough. We all know how you can wake up in the middle of the night sweating, scream that you had forgotten to buy those tickets for Denise Van Outen, rush downstairs, grab the credit card and yank the phone from its receiver. But from now on we'll just have to wait until the sun rises.

d.lister@independent.co.uk

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