Restaurant lighting

What has the power to set the mood, make people more attractive, influence decisions, and enhance sales in restaurants? You’re probably thinking the answer is alcohol. And while you’re not wrong, there’s another element that has been proven to do all of this even better than alcohol. Lighting. That’s right, lighting! 

Lighting is one of the most impactful, and also one of the most misused and underutilized elements in restaurant design. It has the power to make or break a restaurant because of its known influence on customer experience and behavior.
The question: is your lighting getting the job done? Here are four ways – each embraced by expert designers worldwide – to find out.


1. Adjust lighting with your table turn goals

Is your restaurant more profitable when guests stay longer or when the tables are turned more frequently? There is no right or wrong answer. What’s important is whether your lighting is supporting your business goals.

If you want to get customers in and out the door, studies have shown that bright saturated light amplifies emotions, escalates alertness and tends to motivate people to action, like ordering more quickly, eating faster and getting on with their day.

Conversely, if you want customers to feel more comfortable and stay longer, then lower light and its soothing, steadying effect is the solution. Though, be careful not to overdo it. After all, darkness is what puts us to sleep!  


2. Use light placement to make guests look more attractive

If your customers look good, they’ll likely feel good. And if they feel good, then they’re more inclined to have a positive experience in your restaurant. That’s where under lighting, such as candles on a table, comes into play.

Most restaurants have some type of overhead lighting. This casts shadows on people’s faces. If you’ve stood at a bathroom mirror with direct overhead lighting, you know how aged it can make one look (and feel)! To counter this effect, portrait photographers point a soft box at their subject from below – just like placing candles on a table – to even out the overall lighting, reduce shadows and cause a softening or beautifying effect on their subject.

It’s called the campfire phenomenon, says designer Zebulon Perron in an article for The Globe and Mail:

“People look a lot better when they’re lit from underneath. If you’re going on a date and there’s candlelight, human features are enhanced.”

Here’s a dramatic demonstration how light change's one's look:

Consider adding underlighting on your tabletops or near the ground in order to create a more positive experience for your guests. 


3. Drive viral social media with unique lighting and more

You’ve probably seen poorly composed food pictures on social media and thought, “Yuck, that looks terrible.” If it was food from your restaurant, you probably cringed, knowing the food actually looked and tasted great, but the customer’s photography wasn’t up to the task.

The fix? Make sure your restaurant lighting is optimized for an era where 1+ trillion smartphone pictures are taken annually. Cameras of all types – and especially smartphones with their limited aperture and f-stops – need enough light to create quality images. If you’re wondering whether your space offers enough light, take some smartphone pictures to find out.

But that’s not all. You should also create environments that make irresistible backdrops and entice customers to take and share images socially. An entire new industry called pop-up experiences has been born around this idea with places like The Color Factory and Ice Cream Museum. They sell … you guessed it … backdrops for picture taking and social sharing.

Obviously you’re in the restaurant business, not pop-up experiences. But, you’re environment can still drive a similar result. For instance, Town Hearth in Dallas has its cannot-resist chandeliers; Modern Market in Austin has the “LOVE” wall; the Ozone Bar in Tokyo offer bold colors and starry night pendants; and Catch in Hollywood entices with its glittery entrance.

Who wouldn’t want pictures in these spaces? If you need any convincing, consider that the Ozone Bar has received more than 12,000 unique #OzoneBar Instagram posts!


4. Want to sell more dessert? Lighting can help with that too.

Researchers at the University of South Florida found that restaurant lighting influences ordering decisions by customers. Study subjects in dimly lit spaces ordered 39% more calories, while subjects in well-lit spaces were 16-24% more likely to order healthy dishes. Some say that people are less inhibited and less self-conscious when the lights are lower.

If you have any other restaurant lighting tips you would like to share, please leave them in the comment section below.