How To's

How to Properly Light a Restaurant

Ingo Schaer
Written by Ingo Schaer

Quoting Ricardo Legorreta, an architect, “Light attracts people, it shows the way, and when we see it in the distance, we follow it.”

When restaurants and foodservices are designed, one thing that their planning must include beside the physical space is lighting. Place yourself in their shoes and you’ll find your customers desiring a feast for their senses at your branch. Functional as well as setting the mood of your establishment, it is important that your design to leave your customers impressed enough for a return.

What attributes should I look for in making the lighting of my restaurant enjoyable?

Interior-Deluxe – Inappropriate lighting does indeed destroy the experience offered by the restaurant. It is important that you understand the atmosphere you desire and the type of venue it is, to be Imageable to reinforce the existing theme positively. From a glow of intimacy to the feel of spaciousness and relaxation, the layout and selection of fixtures for lighting should address the image to be conveyed, color, uses of the space, atmosphere, visibility, and surface finishes. These factors determine the layered lighting approach, the lighting control, and the light-level variation.

Light your restaurant by the different time of meals, and by the usage and space of your place. Fine dining in a restaurant has evolved to the point where subtlety in all details is the key. Direct lighting is valuable for areas where your food is displayed (for e.g. salad bars) whereas indirect lighting is used for creating the balance and making the place appear charming.

Expand your scope of success by remembering to give your customers and not the architecture the top-most priority. They are the ones your business is all about. When you are concerned about their comfort level, you will make sure there is pleasant lighting. Use colors sparingly to accentuate the moments or any details at your place. A wrong selection would lead you to a circus-like environment.

What do you think the current trend in restaurant interior design is?

Interior-Deluxe: Interior designing is usually the most expensive of the investment on any project you wish to start in this business. Redecorating and redesigning your place at regular intervals does not remain an issue if you had been the wise one to opt for flexible lighting. I said regular intervals because you need to break the monotony and maintain it both as fresh and attractive for the existing clientele as well as the ones they will be talking to about the way your restaurant feels and looks. The rule of the thumb states that you need to be creative.

ImageOne style that is rapidly gaining influence in restaurants is to have them adorned in LEDs. Energy-efficient, flexible, and absolutely beautiful, these lamps are available in a wide array of patterns and colors. You don’t have to worry whether your place uses prewired tapes and materials or standard fixtures. If you can afford them, you are saving up on your cooling budget later. Do a prior check, however, on the ones you purchase that they do not have a problem with dimmers.

For some it’s the grouping of pendant fixtures especially for the places you wish to highlight. The host area or over a booth are places where these lights are generally used. A multi-leveled cluster can have pendants of similar size and shape to make it have a dramatic appeal or they may be arranged in a single line to emphasize the resemblance of the lighting choice. Other owners of the joints in demand call for industrial fixtures of a 1965 type, in their dining rooms catering to both the upscale as well as the casual atmospheres.

Fourth, since the bars have become the focal point for restaurants, designers have Imageresorted to introduce dramatic lighting there in order to sell their premium liquors. From the backlighting or using of track lights, they have worked out for the uplighting element along the back bar. Some of them put in efforts to combine frosted glass panels behind with colored LED to pull off a richer texture and color. Others still have managed well with plain LED lamps placed in spaces along the rear edge of its shelving to get that effect of pop of light. Moreover, if they have been positioned directly behind a transparent liquor bottle that enables effective branding too.

The uplighting feature is further used to show off the wall finishes such as hand applied plaster or untreated wood instead of sidelighting or downlighting. The aim is to provide the wall with a dimension and is achieved with having the fixtures implanted at the top of wainscoting or better yet behind the banquettes or booths. And although most people avoid the intense lighting of colored LEDs, they (magenta, red and blue particularly) can be used to enliven the place specifically on weekends.

Next, with Edison lamps becoming popular, some business operations are working with low light levels for inducing a sexy atmosphere and making these light elements stand out prominent. But, they necessitate for you to have pinpoint lighting so that the tabletop light levels at least are respecting the customer needs of comfort and safe circulation. Plus, you need to make sure they are in line with the state regulations. With these Edison lamps, another factor that has been approved of lately deals with exposed incandescent suspended with a cord over a table or even bars for soft glow.

A final note. Whatever style you choose to go with, make sure to have them with clear glass shades. They would add the required sparkle apart from guaranteeing you a maximized output of light.

What about exterior lighting? I believe it is as crucial to my business as the interior lighting.

ImageInterior-Deluxe: Proper lighting outside definitely does add the beauty, texture and charm to the building, being visible, alerting them that you are open for business and inviting potential customers in. You need your entranceways, the signs, parking areas and architectural highlights to be well lighted for the purpose of highlighting, providing illumination to avoid accidents and generating a sense of security. What you need to consider is the placement, and the degree of intensity and the style of your fixtures remain in harmony with the atmosphere. Landscape lights, ground lights or goose neck lights are the ideal choices.

Your entrance area would determine the first impression of your restaurant. It is likely to become the waiting area in cases that the dining room is completely occupied. Plan your lighting accordingly so that it may not have any negative psychological effect on your clients. While young people tend to be fascinated with low levels of lighting, associated commonly with high quality service and even higher prices, older people generally want brighter light to appease their moods.

About the author

Ingo Schaer

Ingo Schaer

Ingo has been in the lighting business for over 20 years. He regularly blogs about trends and tips in the industry while running one of the most complete contemporary lighting ecommerce sites on the net. Please take a moment to browse his website and feel free to contact Ingo for all your lighting needs.


  • I’ve noticed the trends of Edison lamps and LED lights popping up too! I’m glad you mentioned it in the article. In my area, that trend definitely connected to the rise in popularity of small artisan restaurants that offer the “hipster” vibe. The design of these restaurants is so unique, and the creativity they implement into the decoration and use of the space is just amazing. The lighting does a lot to enhance that.

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