Restaurant lighting – ambience is key
Author: Glenn Harper
Published: June 30, 2014
Providing a good overall experience is key to running a successful restaurant, so it’s essential to look beyond food and service when evaluating your business. Cuisine will be the primary focus, but the role of restaurant lighting should be placed high on the priority list. Effective lighting helps to create a relaxing ambience, which will bring customers back as surely as tasty food. Whether you’re a restaurant owner, hotelier, or specifier, you’ll need to consider the purpose behind any lighting choices you make.
Informed lighting choices
The type of restaurant you’re shopping for and even the type of meal being served might inform your choices. For instance, breakfast lighting should be ample so that customers can enjoy their morning paper and ready themselves for the day ahead. Lunchtime lighting that is moderately bright reflects the bustling time of day and will often help to turn tables faster. Then in the evening a more intimate level of lighting is likely to be desirable. A family restaurant might be better served by a higher level of lighting than a fine dining restaurant. The influencing factors are many.
Meet, greet, and impress
First impressions last, as the old adage goes, and that’s certainly true of a restaurant. Impressive signage and an attractively lit exterior create a good first impression for pre-booked customers as well as passing trade. If your establishment looks warm, inviting, and well maintained, it will immediately inspire confidence and encourage custom.
Lyco have a couple of recommendations for restaurant exteriors. The first is the Searchlight Brass Swan Neck Sign Light , which provides an elegant answer to illuminating a restaurant sign. An IP43 rating certifies its rain resistance.
Outdoor furnishings and luminaires with an indoor look are a modern, chic idea with a hint of sophistication. A Lucca Exterior Floor Lamp at either side of your restaurant entrance, for instance, would be sure to create an inviting feel and is ideal in a contemporary setting. With an IP44 rating, metal shade, and concrete base, these lights can easily withstand the elements.
Waiting for a table
When a restaurant is busy turning covers it’s useful to have a dedicated reception and seating area where guests may relax in anticipation. This is an early chance for you to put customers at ease, so the right choice of lighting can really help set the tone!
It’s good to remember the practical nature of a waiting area; you'll need to be able to communicate with customers, so lighting needs to be more than adequate. There’s plenty of scope here for decorative pendant lights, chandeliers, wall lights, and accent lights to show off features and furnishings. Some track lighting may help to highlight a nearby bar, where extra revenue is possible.
A wide range of lights are suitable for a waiting area, but innovative designs from makers like Graypants and Plumen are sure to create a talking point. With Plumen it’s all about the curvy designer bulb, so Plumen Pendants are deliberately austere. Graypants are famous for crafting stunning ‘Scraplights’ from reclaimed cardboard, and their products feature in high-end restaurants across the world. Top Dutch chef Ron Blaauw recently closed his self-named restaurant - awarded two Michelin stars - and promptly opened the contemporary RON gastrobar at the same venue in Amsterdam, complete with Graypants lighting.
For atmospheric lighting at floor level, the attractively priced Deltech LED Flexi Strip sold in 5m lengths adds a relaxing, contemporary effect. These easy-to-install light strips are available in colour-switching RGB (red, green, and blue), purple, blue, or daylight white.
Actual Table Lighting
Some people are naturally blessed with good looks, but as any canny portrait photographer will tell you, there are ways and means to light people well and make them feel comfortable. At a dinner table a soft, diffused light works well - perhaps a shaded table lamp, making sure no bulb is visible at the customer’s eyeline.
Low-hanging ceiling pendants are used in some restaurants to define space and give each table an intimate feel. A closed shade with diffuser helps to spread a soft light over the table whilst avoiding uncomfortable glare from bare bulbs. A product like the Arden Pendant might serve you well here.
For extra intimacy and romance a candlelit table is difficult to beat, but for the restaurateur there are drawbacks to using traditional wax candles. These include smoke damage, odours, soot marks, and wax spills, which are difficult to clean and likely to incur extra expense. The Philips Imageo Rechargeable LED Candles are an attractive alternative, producing a soft, warm light with a gentle flickering effect. They are versatile, too, with up to 20 hours of use from a single charge and an IP44 rating that allows indoor or outdoor use.
Salad Bar / Buffet Lighting
With a buffet, salad bar or carvery, your lighting considerations are likely to be a blend of practicality and aesthetics. Here is a chance to simultaneously show off your food to its best advantage and create atmosphere, whilst also ensuring the safety and convenience of your customers. Again, the time of day might play a part; customers’ priorities are likely to shift from morning to evening, which you can accommodate in your choice of lighting.
The Fireguard LED7 Dimmable Spotlight allows you the best of both worlds - you can dim the lights a little for evening sittings. Note that these fire-rated downlights are available with either warm or cool white outputs, and this, too, might influence your choice.
A cool white light heightens human senses through its similarity to daylight and is a good choice for breakfast or lunch areas and any environment where speed of service is desirable. Cool white lights are ideal in a hotel breakfast buffet area, for instance. Conversely, warm white lighting is often suitable for fine-dining restaurants, where customers are looking to relax.
One way of really showing off a display of food effectively is to spotlight it with a versatile track or wire lighting system. The beam angle of your lamps should be given some thought, ensuring that you provide sufficient illumination around a buffet area in addition to showcasing your food. The low-voltage Sunbeam Wire Light System looks inconspicuous but delivers crisp, bright light from its five 20W halogen lamps. Depending on the type of food you’re lighting, you might also consider cool-running LED illumination, which avoids projected heat around cold buffets and salad bars.
Other useful tips
There are various other tips you might like to take on board, if you still have room. For instance, don't be afraid to vary your lights. Of course you're looking for a certain amount of cohesion in your choices, but you can still use various types of fitting and different colours to create the effect you want. Consistency in bulb types, however, makes it less likely that you'll be caught without spares.
Don't completely block out ambient light with blinds, particularly if it makes your restaurant look closed from the outside! By the same token, use some of that wonderful lighting effect at night to advertise yourself and draw people in. You might use translucent shades or tinted glass to preserve an element of privacy for your customers.
Remember to make the most of features and space through your restaurant lighting; use concealed uplights, downlights, or track lighting for accent purposes or to highlight plants, bookcases, ornaments and furnishings. Remember that areas of contrasting light and shade help create that all-important ambience.
Don’t skimp on your lighting. The right choice of lamp or luminaire in your restaurant will help make a dining experience memorable. It’ll etch itself into the memory of your customers, along with the service you provide and the food you serve. In fact it’s another of those fine ingredients you need to make a restaurant business a success!
For more advice, inspiration and news take a look at our Lighting Advice section.