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Lighting could be your “best friend” if you let it. It protects us from accidents, highlights special objects and overall, if done properly, could create a magical atmosphere for your restaurant or enhance a current one.

Light can play tricks on our minds and create illusions that we need sometimes to relax from our daily routines. In this article, we will also cover the mistakes in terms of lighting you want to avoid and common light bulbs that are being used in restaurants.

So why is restaurant lighting is important:

What Where or When
Contributes to a positive first impression. Usually front door and entrance
Creates desired atmosphere (or ambiance) Dining room
Ensures the safety and security of your clients and staff Hallways, exits, well-lit kitchen
Completes the overall design and chosen theme Anywhere
Keeps your clients comfortable throughout the day Morning, afternoon, evening
Keeps your clients in the right mood during dinner Different types of restaurants
Keeps your clients happy with their dining experience Dinner hours

1. First impression

Lighting – is the first thing that your clients notice as they enter the restaurant. This is your “face” and what encourages them to enter your restaurant or not. Your light theme will tell them if this is the place that they actually enjoy and want to spend a couple of hours in.

People want to feel good in your restaurant and it is just as important as great cuisine.

2. Atmosphere

The way a restaurant is lit makes a considerable difference in the atmosphere and the diner’s experience. You want your clients to enjoy themselves and accomplish what they came to your restaurant to do, whether it’s a romantic dinner, business meeting, or family gathering.

Using various levels of lighting and accessories throughout the establishment is the best way to create the desired atmosphere. Use a combination of lighting designs. You don’t have to stick to just one type of lighting for a complete restaurant.

3. Safety and comfort

Proper lighting is also important to ensure the safety and comfort measures of customers and staff. If you own a restaurant and want to offer the most appropriate environment and a comfortable experience for your customers and keep your employees safe and efficient.

Bright and even lighting is essential in the kitchen and food or beverage preparation areas to avoid mistakes at work and accidents such as burns, cuts, trips, and falls. The bathrooms and emergency exits should also be very bright.

4. Highlights

Proper lighting completes and reinforces the restaurant’s design theme and the thought process that took place as the designer arranged the objects and furniture within the restaurant. Whether you want a casual, comfortable, or dramatic feel to your restaurant there are lots of different and unique ways you can approach lighting design.

Great lighting does not mean you place lights all over the restaurant; it is not a supermarket or hospital. You have to look for special lighting methods or patterns to evoke the impression of privacy, intimacy, relaxation, pleasantness, or spaciousness – because this is what most people are looking for when choosing a restaurant.

For example, if your restaurant has high ceilings, you may want to consider hanging pendant lighting or even chandeliers, depending on the interior style of the available space. The menu display and reception areas require brighter lighting so that guests can easily recognize the hosts and reservations can be clearly seen.

Use small spotlights to accentuate works of art and decoration in areas with low light. It could be used in the rooms of the tables, in the same way as accessories oriented downward above common areas of movement, such as the reception area, bars of salads, bar areas, and bathrooms.

5. Time of the day

Different lighting schemes throughout the day will keep your clients comfortable. Restaurants with breakfast are usually very bright to create a cozy (but not sleepy) atmosphere in the morning.

Take advantage of natural sunlight to save energy by opening blinds and curtains during the breakfast service. In the evening it is imperative to select darker and warmer lighting to create an enchanting (almost magical) atmosphere for your customers.

6. Behavioral encouragement

Different lighting is needed for certain types of restaurants. Fast food restaurants are best set by bright fluorescent lights that illuminate food sample areas and attract customers in a hurry.

In a fine dining restaurant (during dinner service), moderate lighting gives a slower pace and a relaxed and romantic atmosphere, while dim lighting or candlelight creates a cozy atmosphere.

7. Customer preference

Different types of customers prefer different lighting. If you have more couples coming to your restaurant, they would appreciate dim lighting, as families with kids would need a brighter environment, so no one falls asleep.

8. Choosing the right type of light for your restaurant

Since different areas may require different lighting, our choices include all common types of light bulbs with a short explanation of how they should be used in a restaurant:

Globe LED Bulb

The LED Globe bulbs are shaped like classic incandescent bulbs, but use LED technology instead. They use a lot less energy than their older counterparts; yet keep the same style and range of lighting.

A plus to using the LED Globe is that the LED technology makes them dimmable on request. This makes LED lights perfect for mood settings.

LED Globes specifically make a great addition to a classic atmosphere with a modern twist.

Compact Fluorescent Bulb

Another addition to the classic incandescent bulb, the twisted fluorescents consume less than half the energy of the incandescent and last 10 times as long. This makes them great for any static lighting inside the bar.

Unlike the original fluorescent lights, the CFL bulbs turn on instantly and have a much warmer and quieter tone to them. They are as far as possible from the bright, buzzing overhead lights of the old 2000s warehouses.

CFL bulbs are an absolutely wonderful choice for all standard lighting in the bar.

Twisted Fluorescent lamp

Another safe standard, the twisted fluorescent is very much a key player in most bars. It is very similar to the compact fluorescent bulb as it uses a small amount of energy and puts off very little heat.

They won’t last as long as their compact twin, but their lamp shape will give a more diffused and washing feel. They also come in a wide array of lighting styles and strengths, making it a versatile bulb for anything from mood lighting to efficient and safe lighting.

Incandescent Lamp

These are the classic version of light bulbs, which we all came to know and love. Although they are being phased out, they still come with a lot of benefits. For one, they contain no mercury, as opposed to fluorescent bulbs and lamps, which sacrifice safety for shelf life.

Another benefit is that they come with adjustable light settings, so room mood can be easily adjusted on a dimmer. Overall they have safe lighting as a standard throughout a bar.

They need to be changed much more often than any of the newer types of bulbs, so if that were a concern I would choose otherwise.

Compact Fluorescent Lamp

Basically identical to the CFL bulb, the lamp version has a wider spray of light.

Mercury Lamp

Mercury lamps have an incredibly long-lasting light and are well known for that. The light they emit is bright, careful, and meaningful.

They produce a very high-quality light which will get its point across. These are great for overhead lighting and outdoor lighting. Rooms with big open ceilings should also consider these as an option.

Tube Fluorescent Lamp

These bulbs produce some of the strongest portable lights on the list. They are expensive, but they also last so long that they pay for themselves over time.

They create a very strong source of light, yet are not dimmable. Having non-dimmable lights inside a bar is a very risky move and could upset customers on many occasions.

Due to this single drawback, they should be left as lights that hang outside to show off the entrance to the bar, or other similar functions.

Flame Shape Bulb

The flame-shaped bulb is used widely due to its similar appearance to an actual candlestick. It has a small yet radiant light that is best used to enhance or create a romantic, settling, or safe mood.

Using these bulbs inside of hanging chandeliers will add to the cozy feel of the room, and their unique shape adds depth to any room. They come in dimmable and non-dimmable options, so choose wisely.

Although they already have a warm and cozy light to them, applying for dimmable options may be worth the trouble in the end. When you’re in the service business, always be prepared to serve.

LED Bulb

The LED bulb is a very versatile option. It can emit a smooth dim light, or it can be used as a safe standard to keep everything in the establishment seen.

LEDs hold many advantages over more conventional types of bulbs. One of these advantages is the ability to dim them on a more intimate level.

Due to their digital make-up, they can be manipulated quite easily and precisely. This makes them good for places that go from sunlit to dark, such as a front desk. They also work well for places like bars where some utility light is needed at night. LED bulbs also have the stylish advantage of being colored.

You can purchase single colors or changeable LED bulbs, and those can be either dimmable or static. Every time it is used, an LED bulb opens a whole new world of mood lighting.

Spotlight Bulbs

These bulbs are very bright and can be seen from very far. You never want to put them somewhere tight or it will only make it feel more cramped.

If there is a patio area outside, this is perfect for that. Spotlight bulbs are also great for illuminating an entrance and keeping an outside area well-lit at night.

LED Panel

Panel lights come in many different forms and always give smooth overhead lighting. Panel lights are great for imitating a scattered yet homey ambiance that a diner may have.

The LED panel can take that cozy feeling and upgrade it to a more modern form. Not only do they look modern, but they are light modern too. LED panels wash out a room in comfortable mood lighting, and can also be dimmed more easily and precisely than other types of panel lights.

Add onto this the fact that the bulbs last the longest out of any, and that they can be colored as well. LED panels are an outstanding overhead lighting choice.

LED Strip Light

LED strip lighting is a very versatile type that is usually task-based. These work great behind a bar, in the kitchen, or at the front desk.

Strip lights can be colored and dimmed, so they never have to get in the way or take away from the mood, while still maintaining the utility function they were meant for.

Lighting mistakes to avoid

Choosing the right lighting is only half the equation, you really need to know what are the pitfalls as you design your overall lighting scheme. And don’t forget that each type of lighting, ambient, accent, and task, assists different purposes and is achieved throughout diverse pieces of lighting.

Everything has to be in the right place, in the right amount, to achieve the desired effect. Here are several lighting mistakes to avoid:

#1. Do not overlight the restaurant

You need lighting to create an ambiance and comfort for your clients, but if there is too much light, they will not be able to relax. Nobody wants to feel like they are under scrutiny while dining!

Placing the right amount of interior light in the right places makes more sense than overdoing the lighting. Too many lights are also harsh on the eyes and there are people with poor eyesight that suffer from it.

The best way to achieve this is to figure out how much lighting is needed per square foot in your restaurant. Once you have that figured out, then it is time to implement your plan of action.

#2. Do not use an excessive amount of different fixtures

3-4 types of matching fixtures are more than enough to create the right amount of light without making things look weird.

#3. Do not use too many fixtures that don’t match at all

Your restaurant design has to be aesthetically pleasing and of good taste.

#4. Do you have too much glare?

A glaring fluorescent light does not create the right atmosphere for a cozy fine dining restaurant! Putting your customers in the right mood can make their dining experience one they will remember for all time.

It is important to remember that the lighting is not just for illuminating the space but for creating the right atmosphere for your place of business.

#5. Problem with not targeting a specific customer

Let’s say in your area you have more couples coming in and not so many families, or students. If this is the case, dim lighting (a soft light similar to candlelight) will be appreciated more by your most visited customer.

#6. Problem with forgetting food highlights

Food has to have the right color when it arrives at the table. You will need to test this one until you are satisfied with the effect.

#7. People’s faces have to look right!

This probably sounds funny, but you may be surprised how weird our faces may look if there is a light source right above our heads. Once again, you need to test the looks on somebody before deciding to go with a certain light fixture.

#8. The restaurant – is a work of art, don’t make it look like a cafeteria!

Is your light enhancing your interior color palette or making it dull and boring? But, you cannot do everything yourself, so get a good restaurant designer with a taste similar to you and create a masterpiece!

It is very important for you to get your design idea through to your customers. You need to love your place, it’s your baby. You need to be willing to give it your all and take it to new heights!

#9. Don’t forget the accent lighting! 

Make sure to pay special attention to certain details of your furnishings, artwork, and sculptures. In some cases, you may want to highlight a menu board, drink bar, or an open food-prep kitchen.

#10. Are you underlighting?

Let’s say you made everything perfectly and there is a beautiful ambiance for couples (that are your main guests) in your restaurant, but you noticed that people are taking out their flashlights to read the menu!

Testing again will do the trick. Consider task lighting placed at certain angles so that it doesn’t fall on people’s heads or faces, but is reflected off the table.

#11. Outdoor lights should not be underestimated!

They say to not judge a book by its cover. However, we do it all the time. The same is true with the outside of your restaurant. The outside appearance of your restaurant gives your customers an idea of what kind of atmosphere they will get to enjoy as they enter. Your billboard, outside reception area, and porch need to be properly lit as well.

#12. Safety first!

Thinking of safety is a must! Illuminate all your staircases (there are lots of ways to do that and LED strips at the base of steps can do a great job), doors, exit signs, walkways, etc.

Pretty much every place that needs careful attention to detail (like the kitchen) and where people could be walking in a hurry without thinking, need some sort of illumination. Kitchens do need good quality bright task lights.

#13. Security measure

You did not forget about that, did you? Keeping the sidewalk, exits, and parking lots well-lit will not only keep the patrons safe but will also prevent any break-ins and deter vandals.

#14. Do your lights dim properly?

Not all light bulbs dim exactly the same way. Always ask your salesman if this particular light bulb will dim in warm tones or just keep the same, but less bright color.

#15. Are you getting cheap light bulbs?

Again, not all light bulbs are created equal, but some are more “damaging” than others. It is important that the quality of light will not ruin your overall restaurant presentation.

#16. Are you keeping replacement and emergency lights at hand?

Burnt-out light bulbs should be replaced in a timely manner as well as emergency lights have to be available in case of a blackout or an emergency. Emergency lights are usually placed along walkways and exits.

They only work on batteries and should be turned on in case of an emergency.

In conclusion

Always remember, lights can make your restaurant feel inviting and if your customers are happy, they will return to you in the future.

Attention! This article is for informational purposes ONLY and is NOT a replacement for a professional advice! All statements, prices, contact information, recommendations, and reviews contained herein are based on the information we believe to be reliable, but the accuracy or completeness thereof is not guaranteed. You will need to visit company's website for details and updates, as well as consult your local specialist for appropriate solution to your problem..


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