Consultant Lori Hon judges restaurants with her ears. “I can’t tell you how many times I’m in a restaurant with blaring horns, screeching guitars or gunfire from hip-hop tracks that are distracting and not pleasant to dine to whatsoever,” she says.
As the owner of New York City’s Gray V, she designs soundtracks for restaurants, hotels and retail shops. It’s a skill she’s been honing since 2002, when, as a partner in a Boulder, Colorado, sushi restaurant, she realized, “We had people to talk to about our water, booze, fish and silverware, yet no one to talk to about something as subjective and personal as music.” Existing music services didn’t satisfy. “No matter how much music we had, it seemed like it was never enough to keep things fresh and interesting.”
So Hon sold her stake in the restaurant to launch Gray V. “If we had a dollar for everyone that asked for Buddha Bar- and Hotel Côstes-style music during the first five years, we’d be all set,” she says.
Today, Hon and her business partner, Paul Marais, attend to clients like the Fat Radish on the Lower East Side and Gato, Bobby Flay’s latest New York restaurant. For The Elm, chef–artist Paul Liebrandt’s foray into Brooklyn, the challenge was to satisfy the chef’s well-documented love of alternative music in a setting dedicated to super-modern food.
Working alongside Liebrandt’s wife, Arleene, and the King & Grove team, Hon tailored a playlist for each service. At breakfast, diners might hear Cat Power, Paul Weller or the Velvet Underground; those who come for a late lunch can expect their food to be accompanied by the likes of the Cure, the Troggs, Warpaint and Phoenix; and at dinner, you’re as likely to hear Edwyn Collins and Haim as Pulp and Alabama Shakes. Compiling a playlist, Hon says, is not as simple as choosing the music you like. “Songs that sound perfectly fine when you’re sitting at home or in the car will not work in a restaurant for a variety of reasons,” she explains. Her one universal rule: “Smooth jazz, nowhere, ever.”