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National Restaurant Association - Lighting the way to success

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Manage My Restaurant

Lighting the way to success

Lighting can set the mood in your restaurant, creating a soothing ambience that encourages customers to linger or a vibrant atmosphere that helps turn tables. Put your restaurant in the best light with these techniques:


III Forks Chicago

Highlight your restaurant’s personality. For example, a quickservice restaurant typically is brighter than an intimate, fine-dining establishment, says Anne Kustner Haser of Anne Kustner Lighting Design in Evanston, Ill. Fine-dining restaurants often have more “layers” of light, which include down lights, accent lights, sconces, chandeliers and cove lights. “The more layers within a space, the more dramatic,” she says.

Strike a balance. Make sure patrons can read menus easily, even in a soothing, dimly lit atmosphere. Lighting architect Dan Weinreber faced that challenge when he redesigned Le Bernardin in New York City two years ago. “Previously, the restaurant had a wonderful warm glow that made everyone look great, but it was hard to read the menu,” says Weinreber, a partner with Kaplan Gehring McCarroll Architectural Lighting in El Segundo, Calif. He used several layers of lights, including hidden bulbs in ceiling beams and up lights to achieve the appropriate lighting level.

Avoid glares. “Use as much concealed lighting as possible so you won’t have a glare,” says David Schultz, co-owner of DAS Architects, a Philadelphia-based firm that specializes in restaurant projects. “You want customers to be comfortable; you don’t want them to feel like there’s a headlight shining in their eyes.”  

Take control. Use dimmable lights to allow you to adjust the lighting as needed. “You want a different feel at lunch than at dinner than at late night,” Weinreber says. “Creating the right feel to the space is part theater.”

Use table lighting to create intimacy. Whether you use candles, small lamps or sconces, soft tableside lighting gives a cozy feel. “It creates a room within a room, helping diners tune out everyone else,” Kustner Haser says.


Cantina Laredo, Chicago

Guide the way. Use lighting to steer customers toward the host stand and help them locate the restrooms, Kustner Haser says. Use darker finishes and dimmer lighting in the hallway to the kitchen so customers instinctively avoid that area.

Let customers see themselves in a good light. Use warm, eye-level lighting near restroom mirrors, says Kustner Haser. “You want people to look their best, so they’ll stay longer and buy more.”

Put the spotlight on your decor. Highlight the areas with your most expensive materials. “If you have a wood wall and it’s not illuminated, you might as well have just painted the wall brown,” Kustner Haser says. Likewise, Weinreber says Le Bernardin’s new lighting allows diners to appreciate the artwork on the wall, which previously was difficult to see.

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