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16. december 2022, 4 min read

Let there be light: why restaurant lighting is so important

Author: Marie Elbo
Restaurant lighting. Light bulbs.
Restaurant lighting. Light bulbs.
Photo: Valeria Boltneva

Restaurant lighting is more important in the overall dining experience than you might think. Learn how direct or indirect lighting can impact guests’ first impressions of your restaurant. Or what kind of lighting and settings can make your guests stay for longer and much more.

Interior light has proven to influence guests’ dining experience and the perception of your restaurant. We’re ready to hand you the exciting results of these empirical studies along with advice from an interior light designer from New York City.

Does your restaurant have direct or indirect lighting?

Let’s start with your restaurant’s lighting design. If you have lamps where the light from the bulb is reflected on the ceiling and/or walls, you have indirect lighting. However, if the light at your restaurant comes directly from the light bulbs, you have direct lighting.

Restaurant lighting. Direct vs indirect lighting
Illustration: DinnerBooking

A study on interior lighting in open offices has shown that the perception of direct and indirect lighting can vary from person to person. Some react positively when being exposed to direct light whereas other people find it to be extremely displeasing. However, the study also revealed that the correlation between direct/indirect light and the lighting distribution on the ceiling impacts how the atmosphere in a room is perceived.

Another study from 2021 suggests that focal lighting eg. table lighting is important when the rest of the lighting in the restaurant is dimmed. This light combination seems more attractive to guests than a restaurant that solely has dimmed light.

Both of the above studies suggest that indirect light and direct light complement each other. This underlines why it’s a good idea to have focal lighting above the table so the guests can see what they’re eating and indirect lighting to create that cosy ambience.

Restaurant lighting
Photo: Mehmet Suat Gunerli

Think twice before you turn off the restaurant light entirely!

Maybe you’ve heard about restaurants where guests can dine in darkness? If you’re wondering whether or not that’s a good concept, we’ve got you covered.

There are a few reasons why it’s a good idea to refrain from serving dinner in complete darkness. For instance, multiple studies have proved that adequate restaurant lighting is crucial if you don’t want your guests to overeat. A study with 64 participants showed that the group of people who ate supersized servings in the dark would eat 36% more than the control group, who ate the same meal in a lit room.

Additionally, in some cases, dim lighting can affect taste perception. A 2022 study suggests that dim lighting has an impact on the taste perception of foods with a single taste dimension eg. sweet or salty. However, the taste perception of foods with multiple flavours eg. sweet and salty would be reduced under these circumstances.

It’s a good idea to refrain from dark or too dim-light above the table if you want your guests to value the meal’s visual expression and complex flavour combinations. There’s a very valid reason why people use the saying “you eat with your eyes”.

Guests, please stay a bit longer!

A 2020 study suggests that a particular set of restaurant lighting combined with certain decoration features can make guests stay longer. In this study, researchers experienced that people tend to eat for a longer time when the table is set with a tablecloth and the lighting is dim. The study suggests that light’s role in food intake and perception is altered when combined with decorative features such as a tablecloth.

Restaurant lighting. Restaurant Eydes
Photo: Eydes

Three pieces of advice from a lighting designer

If you’re on the lookout for some particular places where you can improve the lighting in your restaurant, you should grab your pen and paper! A professional lighting designer from The Big Apple, Brett Anderson, has shared three valuable pieces of advice about restaurant lighting. He stresses the importance of mastering lighting in the following three experiences: first impression, bathroom lighting, and restaurant lighting.

First impression

It can sometimes be difficult not to judge something or someone by the first impression. This goes for the guests’ first impression of your restaurant as well.

Anderson emphasises the importance of making the first impression where the guests feel like they’re entering a familiar yet interesting place. A place that’s worth exploring. The keywords to complete this experience are coherence and complexity.

Many guests are looking for cosy corners and beautiful, intimate dining rooms. This is why it’s important to make sure your lighting fits your restaurant’s ambience. Keep in mind that guests like to explore and find all of the cosy nooks and corners, pleasant dining rooms, bar and so on. Too much direct lighting can eliminate this curious behaviour among guests.

Bathroom lighting

The restroom’s primary purpose needs no further explanation. But this short ‘journey’ can have a significant effect on your guests’ holistic dining experience. These short visits can be more pleasant and even boost your guests’ self-confidence if you choose the right lighting.

The lighting wizard, Anderson, explains the importance of mastering the lighting for this particular experience very simply:

“The goal is that everyone should look great in the mirror, which can be helped by putting the light source between the guest and the mirror” — Brett Anderson.

Maybe you’ve experienced looking particularly good in one mirror and other times find it difficult to recognise yourself. The unflattering, bright light that highlights skin impurities, dark rings under the eyes, makeup goop and so on shouldn’t exist at the restrooms. Moreover, the clinical lighting can singlehanded destroy the cosy atmosphere that the other parts of the restaurant call forth. Here, it might be a good idea to make use of indirect lighting or less bright bulbs.

Restaurant lighting. Restaurant Levi
Photo: Levi

Restaurant lighting

It’s no surprise that the dining experience has a place on the list of important light experiences. Contrary to the first impression, providing the table with sufficient light is important. Guests should not have to bring a flashlight to read your menu or determine what’s on the plate. Most people would say that there’s nothing like an intimate candlelight dinner, but it’s problematic if you can’t see what you’re having.

If you master the restaurant light in these three experiences, you’ve improved a very important element of the dining experience: ambience! However, as previous studies have suggested, you should keep in mind that the decorations and overall interior also play a role when creating a cosy atmosphere.

Are you curious to know of other things that can influence guests? On our blog, you can also read how colours can affect the dining experience.