Restaurants & bars

Moxie’s Grill & Bar prides itself on being Canada’s absolute best casual dining restaurant. Following the mantra of being passionate about their food as well as their guests, they’ve created a premium casual dining experience across their 60 locations from coast to coast. Focusing on exceptional food and drink quality does not mean that Moxie’s also does not pride itself in the overall experience of their guests. While maintaining excellent dollar-value, Moxie’s is meticulously designed to provide their guests with a variety of delicious and inspired food selections.

As Moxie’s looked to further hone in on what their brand sounds like, they were assigned to RXMusic’s Director of Music Programming, Ben Birchard, who has been working with the experienced team at Moxie’s Head Office to reflect this premium casual atmosphere into their sonic space.

Tell me how you ended up working in music in this capacity?

My background in mainly in performance. I spent almost 12 years working in theater and performing as a musician – on top of a lifetime of studying music and pop culture as a hobby. About 5 years ago, when it became time to find a job I was simply amazed that the position of Music Consultant even existed. As Director, I have a great opportunity to learn from everyone on our Programming team, and the varied clients we all work with.

When you go about compiling the music program for a place like Moxie’s, this sort of ‘Premium Casual Dining’ restaurant – what kind of sound would you say you’re looking for and what steps did you take to find this ‘sound’?

The interesting thing about Moxie’s – and there are actually three brands that they cover: Moxie’s, Chop and Shark Club – is that they’ve got someone in their executive team, their National Beverage Director, Kim Spence, who is really into music and is a really good partner to work with. Kim is very hands-on and has a lot of input into what makes it into a Moxie’s program but he’s also understanding of the expertise that we offer his brand and is willing to take risks and say, “Hey, maybe this is something we should try out.”

The music is very, very important to him, this is not something that simply gets shoved to the side. Kim and Moxie’s understand the intrinsic value in what were doing, and it shows in the amount of measured thought that goes into selecting the music, the understanding that sometimes risks need to be taken in order to truly push forward, and I feel shows in the overall result which is a great musical program that represents their brand.

Can you describe what this music program is?

In every Moxie’s there are usually two zones: Dining Room and Lounge. The Dining Room tends to be closer to a traditional restaurant fare – rock, pop, R&B, but very much reliant on an Adult Contemporary vibe, something that remains family-friendly. The lounge however is pretty open to taking risks – this is where Kim and I really try to spread our wings and try something different. Where other restaurants would shy away from a certain sound or vibe, in this zone, we’re not worried about getting complaints. One of the edicts that we operate on, when it comes to the lounges, is that, “if we’re afraid of making mistakes, we’re not getting it right.” This really opens the door to other types of music that you may not hear anywhere else. As long as the music is good, and creates the right vibe, we and they are happy. I think this attitude reflects positively on Moxie’s as a whole.

What would you say defines a family-friendly sound and how does this apply to Moxie’s?

A family-friendly sound, to me at least, is something that is never exclusive, as opposed to a sound that tries to include everybody – and I think there’s a bit of a fundamental difference there. Ultimately, you’re looking for the vibe where Mom and Dad aren’t going to be turned off by it, and kids are going to be familiar it. Although Mom and Dad maybe hadn’t heard it before, it’s not going to be too foreign to their ears that they’d be turned off to what they’re hearing. It’s about finding the common thread that made music popular in the past and still resonates today.

Alternatively, when you say you’re “taking risks” what sort of barriers are you pushing back against? How does the sound at Moxie’s stand out?

Day-parting is a very popular strategy where clients will schedule lists to play at a certain time of day with a certain type of content – the difference with Moxie’s, in their lounge, is that they’re more open to the concept that if it works during one time, let’s try it in another. Whereas another similar restaurant would keep a rigidity with feel and genre throughout the day, Moxie’s is more open to trying something from, for instance, their Happy Hour program in the Morning or at Night, because they know the success it already has in their space.

Another example is hip hop – a lot of places will have a lot of rules when it comes to when hip hop can and can not play, but Moxie’s comes from a place where “as long as it sounds right and people like it, we don’t care.”

You mentioned hip hop – that’s not a very popular genre when it comes to restaurant programming?

Not at all. And as a matter of fact, hip hop used to play almost exclusively from 4pm – 6pm to try and control what has this reputation as a controversial musical genre. Coincidentally this is exactly when the music was getting the most positive feedback. So we ended up sprinkling hip hop into the rest of their program and there was some really great feedback from that as well. The energy has really picked up, the staff has certainly enjoyed it a lot more – kinda proving that, well, hip hop has a place in the mainstream and isn’t as much of a red-letter-genre when it comes to sonic branding.

Anybody under the age of 40-45 has now accepted hip hop as a mainstream art-form and has essentially grown up with it.

Totally – especially when you’re talking about hitting the target audience of the 20 – 40 crowd, hip hop is not “new”.

That’s not to say that even Moxie’s was gung-ho with this. It took a lot of experimentation to find this out. We started just having pop tunes with a rap verse in it, and now even that’s a little bit too cliche. So it’s funny how that all works out.

Ultimately, this program is much more cutting edge than most other casual dining restaurants I know of. They certainly keep me on my toes when it comes to programming – and I feel that really reflects positively on them and results in a greater customer experience.


Music sommeliers for experiential brands