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How to Choose and Incorporate the Perfect Restaurant Light Fixture

How to Choose and Incorporate the Perfect Restaurant Light Fixture

Along with great food and service, dining room lighting is part of the magic that draws customers in and makes sure they come back for more. Restaurant lighting needs to be practical and functional, but why stop there? 

An exquisitely lit space is a significant mood influencer that you can use in a restaurant to create an ambiance that will resonate with your customer.  The key to choosing the perfect restaurant light fixture starts with understanding the mood and theme you want to create.

If you're ready to take your restaurant lighting to another level, read on. 

How Restaurant Lighting Impacts Mood

Getting the lighting of a restaurant just right will attract the right kind of customers and deliver the experience that you want for them. 

An upmarket restaurant that seeks to create a fine dining affair will aim for sophisticated lighting that layers a room in muted glimmers of elegance. A café will opt for more utilitarian lighting that is practical and has an energizing effect on the patrons.

The Impact of Bright Lighting

Bright lights are stimulating and create a sense of alertness in customers. Family-friendly restaurants, fast food restaurants, cafés, and ice-cream shops tend to use bright lights.

Bright overhead fixtures and natural lighting from large windows are the simplest ways of introducing bright light to a dining space. Restaurants that serve breakfast need bright lighting to help them wake up. While natural lighting is the best option, bright lighting fixtures will also help toward this goal.

If your restaurant offers all-day dining and serves breakfast, lunch, and supper, consider installing dimmer switches. Dimmers will allow you to adjust the lighting according to the time of day and the needs of the patrons.

The Impact of Low Lighting  

Low lighting creates a warm, comfortable, atmosphere that lends itself to lingering. Strategically positioned low lighting creates pockets of intimacy that allow groups of diners to feel secluded, even though they are sharing the same space.

Low Lighting Invites Lingering

For restaurants that cater to the evening crowd, low lighting is a winner. It creates an environment that invites people to relax, and unwind. Diners who are comfortable are more likely to order extra food, dessert, or coffee and tea. They'll be in no rush to leave and will look forward to coming back again.

Things to Keep in Mind When Planning Low Lighting 

If low lighting is your primary lighting focus, you'll need to plan your ambient and task lighting to be practical. While keeping the general lighting level low, ensure that there's sufficient focused lighting to allow customers to move about comfortably. Use task lighting to brighten the areas where employees need to do their duties.

Restaurant Light Layering

Creating a light tapestry across the inside of a restaurant involves the intentional positioning of three different types of lighting. When you layer these types of lighting, they'll blend together to provide the perfect light mixture of practical and pleasing.

Ambient Lighting

Ambient lighting describes the general light fixtures that provide a general wash of light throughout the dining space that can be a combination of natural light and fixtures. Ambient light allows diners to see where they’re walking as they move around. Ambient lighting can make the dining space seem bigger than what it is by diffusing the light. If used strategically, ambient lighting can give the effect of elevating the ceilings.

Accent Lighting

Use accent lighting to focus a customer's attention. This could either be to an information board, an interesting architectural feature, or to a decorative area such as a planter. Accent lighting contributes to the restaurant’s style and atmosphere. Colored lights are effective when they're used against walls. Some restaurants will use them to backlight their bar area or set apart other areas of interest.

Task Lighting

Task lighting is practical and used where employees perform their duties. Restaurant areas that make the most use of task lighting are at the payment area, the kitchen for those cooking, and to a small extent, at each table, for the customers to be able to read the menu.

Table lamps work well for small, localized areas of light. For lighting large areas such as the kitchen, fluorescent lighting is ideal. Sometimes an overhead spotlight will provide just the right amount of task light without intruding on the atmosphere created by the rest of the lighting in the restaurant.

Restaurant Table Lighting

Lighting above each table offers another opportunity to reinforce the ambiance that you are aiming for. Highlighting each table reinforces the feeling of exclusive space for each group of diners. These are some of the popular options for lighting above a table.

Pendant Lights for Dining Tables

As a single light that hangs from the ceiling, pendant lights are ideal for hanging over dining tables. One light can work for round or square tables. Multiple pendant lights can be used for longer tables. The uniformity creates a seamless aesthetic, while the flexibility caters to different size dining areas.

Pendant lights hang suspended on either a cord, metal rod, or chain. Factor these materials in with the rest of the design. Choose a size that won't overwhelm the dining space, but won't be too small to offer enough light.

Dining Table Chandeliers

Where pendant lights have one light per light source, chandeliers have many globes branching off the central wiring. For an ultra-elegant look, use a single, oversized, chandelier as a focal point of the room. A glittering statement piece will serve as a talking point and imbue the venue with sophistication and class.

If your dining space is spacious enough, you can consider a smaller chandelier over each table. The ideal size is a diameter of approximately half, to two-thirds of the length of the table. 

Remember to choose the look of the chandelier to fit in with the overall styling of the room. Chandeliers come in designs that range from classic styles to more modern shapes and materials. 

Flush-Mount Versatility

For understated elegance, choose flush-mount lights. Flush-mounts are useful for lighting spaces with low ceilings. You can choose a semi-flush mount that adds an extra dimension by dropping a few inches.

Lampshades for Added Drama 

If you are using lights with shades, make sure you test what they look like in a darker room. The style, size, and material that the lampshade is made from will affect the quality of the light emitted. Consider the following options:

Linen fabric shades create a welcoming glow. Use neutral-colored natural fabrics such as linen to give off a brighter ambiance. If you want a moody, subtler light, use black.

Clear glass shades flood the entire space in light. To make them easier on the eyes, they should always make use of filament bulbs. Filament bulbs are versatile, with many styles to choose from.

Opal glass is the perfect choice for an area that needs a wash of bright light, that is less piercing than clear glass light.  

Metal shades channel the light downwards for a low-key lighting effect. A metal shade works well above a table, or as an accent light by a buffet area.

Using Lighting to Make the Most of Your Space

There are many things you get to choose from when it comes to the look and feel of your restaurant, but not ceiling height. High ceilings can leave too much space to create a sense of coziness. Low ceilings have the effect of making a room feel cluttered and small. 

While physically changing the ceiling height may not be an option, lighting can create the illusion of the space you're envisioning. Clever lighting design can work around an awkward ceiling height and create the effect that you want in your dining area. 

Lighting and Low Ceilings

To create the illusion of height, opt for a light that sits close to the ceiling in white. White blends in with the ceiling. This adds texture for visual interest, without taking up space in the room. If you're looking for something classic, but with a contemporary swing, choose a neutral fixture with repeating geometric patterns.

Industrial Lighting for Low Ceilings

Industrial lighting is a great choice for low ceilings as its clean lines create a sense of order. Industrial lighting materials are often reflective such as chrome, zinc, and steel. Reflections add depth to a space that can make a dining space feel larger than it is.

Low Ceilings and Recessed Lighting

If you're choosing recessed lighting fixtures due to a low ceiling, you can opt for decorative styles. Glass or crystal recessed lights will add a sparkle of sophistication without compromising space. 

Hanging Lights and Low Ceilings 

Does a low ceiling stop you from having chandeliers and pendants? Not necessarily, as long you plan where to put them carefully. If the room layout is flexible and regularly rearranged, it's probably best to avoid them. A minimum height above the floor for hanging lights is 70 inches.

16 inches off the floor is the minimum for extravagant fixtures. If your ceiling is too low to accommodate a long drop light, consider choosing a wide fixture that will give the right amount of drama, without being low enough to be a hazard. There have to be 26 - 30 inches of clearance between the light and the table.

Fixtures that hang on cords or chains are easy to adjust to the height of the ceiling. If you're choosing a pendant light or chandelier with a downrod, check that the length works in your space before you buy the fixture.

Effective Lighting for High Ceilings

High ceilings have a lot more space to play around in compared to low ceilings, but they do tend to make rooms feel cold and uninviting. Lighting design can help create the warm intimacy that one wants in a fine dining environment. To do this, apply the rule of thirds.

Rule of Thirds in Restaurant Lighting Design

Creating an intimate feeling in a large space is overcome with a combination of furniture, wall hangings, and smart lighting design. Using light to manipulate a big area to feel smaller, takes a tactic called the rule of thirds. Dived the room into three horizontal sections - top, middle, bottom - and create an individual lighting setup in each of them.

Rule of Thirds Step 1 - Lighting at the Top Level

The point of lighting the top level is to create ambient light. Large, hanging lights such as chandeliers of pendants, give the illusion of a lower ceiling by acting as a focal point. 

Recessed lights at the top level provide clutter-free ambient light while doing away with ceiling and wall shadows. Position them far enough apart to wash this space below in evenly distributed light. If recessed lights are positioned around the edges of the room, they will eliminate wall shadows. Recessed lights can be used on their own, or distributed around a focal dramatic piece. You can also choose sloped ceiling lights or adjustable recessed lights.

Track lighting is a versatile option as you can reposition track heads to shine toward different areas in the room and create a balanced lighting wash. Track lighting can highlight focal points in the middle and lower levels. Highlight beautiful wall textures using a track light.

Strip lighting creates warmth, highlights building features or wall texture. Hiding strip lights behind soffits creates a softer, balanced light for the room. Use tape, puck, or rope lights to accent architectural details.

Rule of Thirds Step 2 - Lighting the Middle Level

The middle section belongs to wall art, floor lamps, low-hanging pendants, and wall sconces. Wall lights create a fluid blend between the top and middle levels of the room. To achieve this, position wall lights at eye level or higher. 

Avoid vertical sconces as they would draw attention towards the high ceilings instead of downplaying them. Fluid, round shapes will draw the eye towards the wall art. Dimmers on your wall lights will help you accommodate any shift in mood or activities that you'd like to create. Test the lights in position before final installation to check for glare that would bother a customer. 

Rule of Thirds Step 3 - Lighting the Bottom Level

Wall paneling and furniture are the main elements of the bottom level. To light this area, make use of floor lamps, table lamps, uplights, and step lights. Floor lamps create pools of light on the floor that is practical for moving around safely but also adds a layer of visual interest. Floor lamps can move around if necessary. 

Step lights are both functional and aesthetic. Practically, lighting stairs in the dim lighting of a restaurant is a big safety bonus for patrons and staff. When done right, it can look visually appealing too.

Uplights are versatile, safe, alternatives to candles. You can change colors and use them to highlight decor that you'd like to attract attention to. 

Lights on the lower level create light pools that affect the perception of ceiling height. Accent lighting at this level should be made up of small accent lights and large lamps. Avoid underlighting features at this level.

General Rule of Three Tips

The rule of three can work magic to make a large space seem more intimate. Remember that positioning too many lights in the middle of the dining space will make the ceiling appear darker and higher.

Avoid over-lighting the top level as it creates a focal point that will draw the eye up to the void. Don't ignore any one of the three lighting layers. They all need to be lit.

It is easy to fall into the trap of pockets of overlit and underlit areas when lighting a big space. Aim for even light distribution to create a comfortable dining space. Start your lighting design with ambient lighting as this will determine lamp placement. 

If you strategically approach your lighting design using the rule of three, it will create the rich, welcoming, atmosphere you're hoping for.

Chandelier Tips to Make a Large Dining Area Seem Smaller

Even though they are dramatic focal points, chandeliers are wonderful at providing balanced light throughout a room. Whether you opt for a single chandelier as a dramatic focal point or smaller ones above each table, here are some other tips:

  • Choose a chandelier with candle or globe lights
  • Combine lights with beads, prisms, and crystals
  • Aim for translucent shades or globe lamps that light vertically in both directions
  • Even light is the goal, use drum shades 
  • Diffused lighting is ideal, pick translucent shades rather than opaque
  • Choose LEDs over regular bulbs as they last longer

Chandeliers offer versatility in design these days that is far removed from the traditional chandelier of old. With so many options to choose from, there will be a style that will suit your design aesthetic.

Consider Smart Lighting for Your Restaurant 

Smart technology is becoming more common in our homes and businesses. You can program most of your lighting by an application on your smartphone.  Here are some ways you can make use of it in your restaurant.

Natural Light Smart Technology Control 

Natural light gets technology smart too. Even if your main source of light is natural light, smart lighting technology can work with the window treatments and adjust the amount of sunshine that gets through the glass.

Motion Sensors for Restaurants

Using motion sensor triggered lights in your restrooms and you'll be saving energy by only having the light on when the room is in use. You could make use of motion sensor-triggered lights for outside pathways. Stairs that light up as you get to them can be quite beautiful as well as practical.

Closing Time ... On Cue

You can rig up your bar lights on a timer to steadily become brighter as it gets closer to closing time. Without you saying a word, your customers will soon get used to wrapping up their tabs and getting ready to leave.

Safety at Light's Off Time

Controlling your restaurant lights from your mobile app is convenient and safe. Instead of turning off lights and navigating the dark to get to your car, you can lock up with the lights on. From home, you can turn off all the lights in the restaurant. 

Outdoor Restaurant Lighting

As you go about designing the lighting plan for the inside of your restaurant, don't forget about lighting the outside too. Even if you don't offer outdoor restaurant seating, you'll need to consider somewhere safe for your patrons to park, and a well-lit path for them to follow to get inside.

A smart restaurant owner will begin to draw the customer into the mood and feel of the restaurant from the moment they drive into the parking lot. Using lighting, you can aim to create a seamless experience that will take the customer on a journey. 

To do this, make sure you're sticking to the same feel or theme that you've created inside. It might be possible to use the same materials that you've featured inside. Aim for the same level of whimsy or sophistication that you've used inside.

Always use lights that are specially designed to be outdoor lights. Outdoor lights are constructed differently to withstand the elements and operate safely even if it should rain. Indoor lights are not designed or built to be installed outdoors.  

Picking the Perfect Restaurant Lighting Fixture

You've taken the utmost care to plan your restaurant kitchen, ensuring that everything your staff may need is on hand. You've carefully considered the right tables and chairs for your customers to dine at. Your menus, branding, and signage are all exactly as you planned.

Now is the time to add the final touch that will bring it all together and breathe magic into the dining space. The right lighting brings a restaurant to life and will make customers keep coming back for more. 

If you're ready to add the magic to your dining space but aren't sure where to start, contact us today

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