Eat to the beat

Eat to the beat

It is Friday evening at Japanese charcoal grill restaurant Rocku Yakiniku and customers are grilling slivers of meat and vegetables. Amid the cooking and noshing, someone begins to sing - a two-piece band has taken to the stage in the middle of the restaurant.

The joint in Bugis Plus is among a growing number of restaurants and cafes here offering diners live music, which was once exclusive to bars. At least 10 F&B joints that serve lunch or dinner have added musical treats in the last two years, giving singers and bands a new platform. All have to apply for a public entertainment licence from the police.

From a North Indian restaurant to a bakery-cafe, these establishments are going the extra mile to stand out from competitors.

Ms Bonnie Wong, 26, marketing manager of Creative Eateries, which manages Rocku Yakiniku, says: "To differentiate itself, Rocku Yakiniku defies convention by melding a traditional style of Japanese dining with modern entertainment."

The eatery offers live music from Thursday to Saturday, with a different resident singer each night.

Business has improved since performances started in December 2012. For instance, takings on Thursdays have climbed an average of 12 per cent compared with Wednesdays when there are no performances, says Ms Wong.

Financial analyst Jesse Tan, 27, a frequent diner at Rocku Yakiniku, says: "In South Korea and Taiwan, the idea of eating while being entertained is popular. Restaurants should add value beyond food."

The notion of a complete experience beyond satisying the tastebuds is why the owners of North Indian restaurant Shahi Maharani in Raffles City Shopping Centre has had live music since it opened in 1997. It is believed to be among the first eateries here to offer such entertainment.

A band from India serenades patrons with ghazals (a centuries-old form of poem and song) and Bollywood tunes six nights a week.

"It's not loud music like in a club. Instead, it adds to the ambience, showing off India's rich culture and heritage," says Ms Chitra Mirpuri, 39, the restaurant's director.

It costs about $5,000 to fly in a three-man band from India for six months, including accommodation, Ms Mirpuri reveals.

"But we make that extra effort as customers come to Shahi Maharani with the experience of music and food in mind," she adds.

For Ms Arianna Majeed, owner of Muslim-run bakery-cafe Spatula in Frankel Avenue, the decision to offer music gigs last October was inspired by her love of live music. She wanted to give her customers, a predominantly Muslim crowd, more options.

"Normally, live music can be found only in bars, which most Muslims don't frequent. So I thought, why not incorporate this element into a more casual, family-friendly setting... and share this with the Muslim crowd?" says the 27-year-old.

She usually invites her younger sister and friends who play in bands to perform radio-friendly English hits from Friday to Sunday.

At ice cream parlour Ben & Jerry's outlet in Dempsey, offering live music on Friday and Saturday makes it "one of the few places where the entire family can enjoy a great time together, unlike bars or clubs", says Mr Wong Toon King, 48, Ben & Jerry's franchise owner.

This is true for Ms Ifa Harmifa Mohd, 42. The fashion designer and owner of a women's boutique has been visiting the Dempsey outlet almost every Friday since 2012 with her three teenage children.

"The music adds to the relaxed vibe of the place and I doubt we would go if there was no music," she says.

Mr Fatool Ayob, 33, one of the regular singers at Ben & Jerry's, appreciates the wider range of venues for musicians such as himself. Having worked in the live music scene for 15 years, he notes how different singing in bars is from cafes and restaurants.

"At times, I'm not sure if the bar patrons who have been drinking really appreciate my music or just treat it as background entertainment," he says.

In settings such as Ben & Jerry's, where the crowd is more diverse and can include kids and the elderly, he feels he is reaching out to a wider audience and achieving what he loves - entertaining people.

"They ask for a variety of songs, including oldies such as those by Elvis Presley. Moments like these give me a greater sense of satisfaction," he adds.

But Mr Rai Kannu, 36, of singing duo Jack & Rai, points out that not all eateries offer a conducive environment for live music gigs. He says: "Some F&B joints resort to live music to draw the crowds and set up only a small space in the corner for the band."

In such cases, he wonders if diners do pay attention to the music while eating. He adds: "How they conceptualise the place is important. In some cafes, live music is treated more as a showcase and there is a good vibe that complements the music."

One such cafe is Artistry in Bugis, where eight to 10 music events are scheduled each month.

"We felt the platform for singers to showcase their craft was missing here. There are lots of live music gigs, but they are generally Top 40 covers, which are drowned out by people talking over a few beers," says Mr Marcel Heijnen, 50, co-founder of the gallery-cafe which began staging these events in November 2012.

He adds: "This is a clear sign that a subculture is developing in a big way and refuses to be contained to just the obvious spots."

gurveenk@sph.com.sg

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