Serving 300,000 customers daily, Café de Coral is one of the largest and most popular fast food chains in Hong Kong. It was founded in 1968 with the idea of offering affordable meals for working-class wage earners. And indeed, the restaurant’s typical Chinese and international dishes have proved well liked by the city’s working class, and even its general population. Café de Coral is by no means gourmet, but for a handful of dollars you get a full meal that looks and tastes good. No wonder there are lines at most its branches at mealtimes.
Café de Coral at Hong Kong Plaza, a 41-floor high office building in Sai Wan, is always busy. Being inside an office building, it is a popular choice of its office workers. At times between mealtimes, when the queue is shorter and the eatery more sparsely occupied, soothing instrumental music is heard at the background, infusing the atmosphere with a laidback, relaxed ambience. However, is it the suitable type of music to play during peak hours such as lunch break? Most fast food restaurants across the world combine fast paced music with a strong colour palette to make the customers want to leave as soon as possible. Do you think Café de Coral should play different types of background music depending on how much the restaurant wants to facilitate table turnover?
McDonald’s is a brand that needs no introduction. The world’s largest restaurant chain, McDonald’s serves approximately 68 million customers daily in 120 countries across approximately 36,900 outlets. The fast food brand mainly sells hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken products, and french fries, very much to the liking of people of different ages.
McDonald’s at The Westwood (西寶城) differs from the majority of its counterparts. The Westwood is a shopping mall in Shek Tong Tsui and one of the facilities of the Belcher’s, the tallest development in Western Mid-levels consisting of six residential buildings. The proximity to the Belcher’s facilitates residents’ access to the fast food shop and schoolchildren with nannies are often seen there. However, Western Mid-levels is not really a busy area and not many people frequent by. The spacious mall is generally calm and relatively peaceful. So is its McDonald’s. Background pop music is clearly audible, mingled with children’s voices and the sound of customers making enquiries. The open restaurant got no doors which allows sounds to diffuse. Furthermore, it got more seats in the mall outside the small shop. So if you want to have your food in a quieter environment, you have choices.
With most McDonald’s being crowded, McDonald’s at The Westwood stands out in its space and relative peace. Fast food is prepared, delivered and eaten fast. But relative quiet will still be welcomed by some customers.
Anyone having visited the streets of Sheung Wan has probably noticed an eye-catching building which has a red brick exterior with a handsome granite arch over its entrance. One of the oldest structures in Sheung Wan, the Edwardian-style building was the North Block of the original Western Market completed in 1906 and operating since the 19th century. Western Market was renovated in 1991 and converted into a shopping complex selling arts and crafts, and fabrics originally sold in the old alleys of Central.
Honeymoon Dessert (滿記甜品) is one of the shops where weary shoppers can get a bite and rest their legs. Having more than 160 styles of hot and cold desserts on the menu from traditional Guangdong sweet soups to modern fusion treats, Honeymoon Dessert has something for everyone. What adds to the experience is the quiet in the daytime when customers in the shop are scarce. Every sound, such as the clanking of metal spoons, seems magnified and louder than it is during day. Playing music at the background to mask the sounds may be a good idea. You can only imagine how the dessert shop will be transformed at night when after dinner, people fill the space completely and overfill it by queueing outside. Clanking of metal spoons and animated chatting will be in full swing. Like a nocturnal animal, Honeymoon Dessert slumbers during day and comes alive at night.
Do you like a big, sumptuous scoop of ice cream? Does the sight of ice-cream excite you? If you love ice cream, Mobile Softee (雪糕車) knows how to thrill you not only visually, but auditorily as well through pairing ice cream with cute music-box style melody. The 47-year-old brand has become part of the collective memory of many Hong Kongers. In fact, its symbolic and cultural significance is so great it can be said to have been a soundmark of Hong Kong.
Mobile Softee is an ice cream vendor in Hong Kong. It all started when Ho Ging-yuen (何敬源) and two of his friends imported the idea of an ice-cream truck from England by gaining a franchise in 1970 from Mister Softee, a United States-based ice cream truck franchisor. Ho selected the Blue Danube composed by Johann Strauss II as the theme song for their 14 ice-cream trucks out of all song choices provided by Mister Softee for no other reason than that the sweet tune rang most familiar to Ho.
Mobile Softee’s distinct ice cream trucks painted in red, white, and blue ran all over Hong Kong while playing the Blue Danube tune loud on their speakers. They lingered near schools and train stations on weekdays and at tourist spots such as the Star Ferry Pier in Tsim Sha Tsui on weekends. People always hear a Mobile Softee before seeing it. Once your ears catch the classic and well-known tune of the waltz music, it grows on you and stimulates your brain with enticing images of ice-cream, making you want to buy it even before seeing it. The Blue Danube tune is like a tantalizing beckoning, guiding and drawing people to its source and the product, a siren song for every ice-cream lover.
Not only is Mobile Softee one of the earliest precursors of food trucks in Hong Kong, it is also one of the few sellers that tap into people’s hunger through hearing. Its attempt to evoke the deliciousness of ice cream through music is a clever marketing strategy. It succeeded to be ear-catching in a memorable way and has made a name for itself. However, is Mobile Softee’s sweet music welcomed by everyone? When vehicle sound is coupled with music, do they go well together or on the contrary, make the surrounding soundscape noisier or chaotic? For people who would just like to enjoy the ice-cream in quiet, Mobile Softee’s music may ring less than peaceful to their ears. Whether the Blue Danube evokes whatever Mobile Softee aims to evoke, be it happiness or a craving for ice-cream, depends after all on the hearer, his or her mood or other personal factors, pointing to the subjectiveness of soundscape.
Original campus of Queen’s College and rebuilt in the 50s as Police Married Quarters, PMQ (元創方) in Central is now a hub for creative and design industries. PMQ retained its semi-open design which aimed to allow greater interaction between police officers in residence when the site was used as Police Married Quarters. The openness of design is what makes Café Life different and refreshing. Café goers can sit by the open views unobstructed by any window and take in the air, the cool breeze, and sounds in the vicinity of PMQ.
The semi-open setting of PMQ enables natural ventilation as well as the penetration of sounds from the surroundings. While you are sipping at your freshly roasted coffee, the wind brings to you traffic sound from Aberdeen Street where PMQ is situated. Conversation voices and shrieks of a coffee machine in motion are muffled, for they are dispersed, untrapped by windows. In this way, the café is made less enclosed and exclusive, café goers are invited to be part of a larger, less confined environment and receive more stimuli, be it visual or auditory.
Do you like a half-open, window-less café than a regular café closed off from its immediate vicinity?
You may have used maps or Google Maps when navigating in places you are not unfamiliar with. Has it occurred to you how very visual those maps are, that they are merely visual representation of areas? Have you imagined a different kind of maps that feature not the visual aspect of the environment but the auditory?
A sound map uses map to represent the soundscape or soundmark of locations. Its objective is to represent a specific environment using its soundscape as primary references as opposed to visual cues. Sound maps are created by associating landscape (streets in a city, train stations, stores, pathways, factories, oil pumps, etc.) and soundscapes. Sound maps do not have to be large in scale, nor do the sounds represented have to be symbolic. It can simply be a map representing the sonic environment of your home in which the tap water can be heard running in kitchen and washroom, the washing machine droning in the living room, while the television blasting in the bedroom.
Crowdsourcing is usually the method of collecting data for sound mapping. Since people perceive the same sonic environment differently, crowdsourcing allows participants to contribute each of their own responses and piece together a sound map with diversity. Considering that sound is transient in nature and that various types of sound can be heard over time at the same spot, crowdsourcing enables the development of a comprehensive and detailed sound map by listeners’ collective effort.
Sound maps are in many ways the most effective auditory archive of an environment. The creation of sound maps encourages people to visit a particular location in person in order to experience the actual sonic environment and afterwards chip in and share their own observations. Also, sound maps enable users to re-experience the environment with focus on its sonic elements. So if you want a certain sound replayed without having to drop by a certain place, you may refer to the sound map of the location which enables access of its soundscape at all times simply with your electronic devices
Is there any sound that reminds you of a particular place? For example, does the ding ding sound of trams remind you of Hong Kong? Would you think of London when you hear Big Ben chimes? If they do, those iconic sounds are soundmarks.
Derived from “landmark”, soundmark is a term used in Soundscape Studies to refer to a sound which is unique to an area or possesses qualities which make it specially regarded or noticed by the people in that community. A soundmark is highly symbolic because it evokes immediate association to the location upon being heard. Soundmarks, therefore, are of cultural and historical significance and merit preservation and protection.
Soundmark is not only a term found in Soundscape Studies. It has made its way into marketing and brand differentiation. Some luxury automobile brands develop their own engineering sounds in order to differentiate themselves from their peers and to give users a sense of superiority. Hence, soundmark gives characteristics to a place or a product. With uniqueness and individuality being much sought after by modern society, can you foresee how soundmark will develop in the near future?
Nestled in Central, the financial heart of the city, Landmark is commonly known as a gathering place for well-heeled shoppers because it offers top-tier, opulent shopping and lifestyle experiences. For ladies taking a break from shopping and local office workers wanting a convenient business lunch, the upmarket mall offers international cuisine with an Asia-inspired refinement in its CAFÉ LANDMARK.
Devoting a large open area to CAFÉ LANDMARK on its first floor, Landmark foregrounds the restaurant’s central location. Some tables overlook the buzz of the shops below as the sun bathes the building with light through the high glass ceiling, aiming to evoke an illusion of a floating restaurant. Faint, soft, murmuring classical music is wafting through the air, the mall, at the dining scene, inducing a laidback atmosphere. Diners’ voices are low and controlled with clanking of cutlery occasionally heard. This seems a perfect sound environment according to a study published by the Journal of Culinary Science & Technology which determined that food tastes best to diners when classical music is softly played and there’s the presence of subtle background chatter. Apart from setting the mood and increasing the satisfaction of the diners’ taste buds, music serves to mask noise of the clinking of cutlery.
Being at a fancy restaurant like CAFÉ LANDMARK where a three-course meal for two persons can cost around HK$700, you expect nothing less from its food experience which includes an optimum sound level.
Reference: How Music Establishes Mood and Drives Restaurant Profits
Have you ever been to restaurants that are too noisy to stay long? Are there any restaurants that you want to go again because of its harmonious sonic environment? The many sounds you heard in a restaurant constitute the soundscape of it. The subjective feelings you have towards the soundscape is the most interesting part to study. Sounds in restaurants may not be noticeable most of the time, yet sounds stealthily affect us in different ways.
Why Soundscape Matters? – Dining is part and parcel of everyday life for urban folks. Restaurants nowadays are not only places to eat but a matter of lifestyle. Hong Kong, Macao and Singapore are well developed cities that pursue better quality of life. We care about the setting of a restaurant or the quality of food but seldom talk about the sonic environment of a restaurant. The sonic environment of a restaurant sets the atmosphere and the mood for diners to enjoy food. It is as part of the dining experience as the dishes, décor and customer service. The many possibilities in making better soundscapes can bring us to a new world of dining out experience.
What Can You Help? – If you are interested to contribute in improving the sonic environment of restaurants, you are cordially invited to participate in the research project by National University of Singapore, Macao Polytechnic Institute and DingDingSound HK. We are sorting out the major components in creating desirable soundscape in restaurants. We need your comments on various restaurants. The following questionnaire will take you about 5 minutes to complete. You can rate any restaurants you have been to for several aspects. Your reply will be of paramount value to our research and future design of soundscape in restaurants. Thank you for your time and assistance. If you have any question/ feedback, please email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chinese Questionnaire: http://bit.ly/2tsxcYz
English Questionnaire: http://bit.ly/2ubtcsv