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Restaurant lighting is critical to offering a memorable dining experience. As one of the most powerful design mediums, it plays a key role in creating a pleasant atmosphere. Lighting can lift people’s mood and connects them with the dining space at a deeper level. It influences customer behaviour from menu choices down to the length of their stay. Above all, it helps create and convey the personality and identity of the restaurant.

Despite this, restaurant lighting often remains an afterthought in the restaurant interior design and fit-out process. Something to be done before the grand re-opening. Few restaurant owners are aware of the impact an efficient lighting design has on the success of their business. Restaurant lighting is more than a simple design element. It gives you space character, sets your customers in the right mood and creates a welcoming ambience. It helps people transcend the boundaries of their everyday life and invites them into a space that offers divine pleasure.

The basic principles of restaurant lighting design

Most restaurant interior designers would agree that lighting design is one of the most challenging aspects of the restaurant interior design process. It is a design tool that arguably has the greatest impact on customers’ perception of the business and its services. For this reason, it is crucial to design the restaurant lighting to create a lasting impression of the space. It needs to convey the identity of the restaurant and set the tone of the space. It should enhance the interior design and reflect the theme and cuisine. Without a doubt, lighting design is central to the success of any restaurant.

“To see beauty is to see light” (Victor Hugo)

The challenge in creating a successful lighting design lies in the fact that it needs to fulfil several purposes. As such, it should:

  • enhance the interior design and create the perfect atmosphere whilst ensuring that both customers and staff have enough light to see the menu and perform their tasks.
  • align with the theme of the restaurant and represent the mood and feel of the space and cuisine.
  • help create the identity of the restaurant and communicate that efficiently towards customers.

Following a few restaurant lighting best practices and basic design principles ensure all of these aims are met:

Fit for the type of restaurant
as well a for the space

Since lighting can be a defining aspect of a restaurant’s look, feel and overall ambience, it is vital to create the lighting design taking into account the type of the establishment. Different types of restaurants need different types of illumination:

  • Family-oriented restaurants need general lighting that reflects the overall theme or cuisine. The restaurant lighting design needs to avoid creating overly lit or dim spaces.
  • Fine dining restaurants, in contrast, require soft and retained lighting, preferably in conjunction with decorative light fixtures that complement the design scheme and reflect the cuisine and the superior quality of the restaurant.
  • Fast-food restaurants should have consistently high levels of lighting, usually without the use of too many decorative luminaries. Instead, designers should focus on architectural light fixtures, preferably using fluorescent or LED light, and keep the lighting as simple as possible.

Efficient use of layered lighting
depending on the restaurant layout

Different types of light sources and fixtures perform different tasks. As a result, different areas of the restaurant need to have different illumination. The success of the restaurant lighting will, therefore, depend to a large extent on the skilful use of various layers of lighting to create the desired effects.

Lighting designers usually focus on four main layers of lighting when creating the design scheme:

  • Ambient lighting provides the general level of lighting in a bar or restaurant. Being the main source of light, it is used to set the tone of the restaurant and create the perfect ambience for diners to enjoy. Used cleverly, it can make the space feel bigger and more welcoming.
  • Task lighting is used to illuminate various work areas, such as the cash register or the kitchen. As such, task lighting should ensure that staff can perform their tasks and duties efficiently and have enough light to see what they are doing.
  • Accent lighting, as the name suggests, can be used to draw attention to the architectural features or to emphasise various areas or features of the restaurant. Accent lighting is one of the brightest light sources in a restaurant. Can help people’s navigation, or guide diner’s eyes towards particular areas or spaces.
  • Decorative lighting, also known as effect lighting is what gives the restaurant its character and identity. As opposed to the other types of lighting, decorative lighting is more about ambience and aesthetics than functionality. Stylish chandeliers, pendants and other decorative light fixtures give the restaurant a unique identity that will set it apart from its competitors.

Colour and brightness
are key

Setting the perfect mood in a restaurant is one of the main aims of successful restaurant lighting. Although most restaurants seek to create an intimate feel in their restaurants, some establishments aim to build excitement and offer entertainment. Depending on the desired effects, various types of light sources, fixtures and varying levels of brightness and colour might be used.

Most restaurants aim to create an intimate environment and an ambience that helps customers relax. To achieve that, warm and cosy light sources are recommended, that make the space feel more welcoming and restrained. But at the same time, one should remember that people might look for different moods during the day. During breakfast and lunchtime, moderately high levels of illumination are desired. For dinner time, on the other hand, a more dimly lit space might be better. Combining daylight with artificial lighting can help adjust the levels of lighting according to the time of the day. Alternatively, control switches and light sensors can be installed that adjust the level of lighting in the restaurant according to the daylight.

Another option worth considering is the use of coloured lighting. When used sparingly, it can be useful in introducing brand colours and creating excitement. That is especially true of the bar counter, where people sit down to enjoy themselves and have a good time with a glass of wine at their side.

Strong focal points
through lighting

Clever use of restaurant lighting helps customers’ navigation and orientation. Lighting designers can create strong focal points by cleverly combining accent and ambient lighting. Variations in brightness levels and colour can create excitement and add to the overall design. It can draw diners’ attention towards specific areas and visually guide them through the space.

Diners’ orientation and perception of the restaurant is vital to ensure the success of the interior design. Customers entering your restaurant should be able to know where to go and where to find what shortly after their arrival. They should be able to create a mind-map of your space and evaluate the quality of your services at a glance.

Clients’ and staff’s
comfort come first

Last, but not least, the lighting of a restaurant needs to ensure the comfort of customers and staff alike. As such, task lighting needs to be sufficiently bright to allow restaurant staff to serve customers efficiently. Ambient lighting should create a pleasant atmosphere whilst ensuring that guests can read the menu without too much strain.

While it is important to create an adequate level of lighting in the restaurant, it is vital to avoid glare. Light reflected from shiny surfaces or mirrors can easily lead to glare which causes eyestrain. To avoid this, it is crucial to create the lighting design not only with the specific areas of the restaurant in mind but also with materials in mind. Similarly, the use of light diffusers might be effective in avoiding glare.

Restaurant lighting by
Contrast Interiors

Contrast Interiors has over fifteen years of experience in the interior design and fit-out sector. With vast experience in designing attractive hospitality spaces, we offer professional restaurant lighting services for bars and restaurants in London. Our knowledge in all aspects of restaurant design allows us to bring to life spaces that have an outstanding aesthetic value and overall functionality.

We know how important it is to give your restaurant or bar its unique, individual style. For this reason, our lighting consultants pay utmost attention to the overall concept or theme, your target audience as well as to space when creating restaurant lighting designs.

With multiple successful projects behind our backs, we are confident in the quality of our services. With a deep understanding of how to connect people to spaces through design, we help bring all of your design aspirations to life.

Want to know more how you can use lighting more efficiently for your restaurant or bar? Contact us today. We offer a free, no-obligation consultation for all prospective customers.

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