WebstaurantStore / Food Service Resources / In-Depth Articles / Restaurant Lighting
Restaurant Lighting

Restaurant Lighting

Last updated on 9/20/2017

Restaurant lighting can add or detract from the overall experience while dining, and can create a luminous environment where customers will want to come back again and again if it’s done properly. Not only does adequate restaurant lighting provide form and function, but light also contributes to our other senses of taste, touch, sound, and smell in these culinary environments. The use of lighting helps to evoke and bring out certain emotions depending on the purpose of your restaurant’s space, while also addressing and highlighting features in your establishment. Oftentimes lighting is overlooked, but should be as important as all other design features that go into a restaurant’s design. Knowing how to take advantage of your restaurant’s lighting can greatly improve its look and feel, and can create an experience rather than just a meal for your target customer.

With the Proper Restaurant Lighting You Will Be Able To:

  • Create specific atmospheres to reflect your restaurant’s theme, and contribute to the customer’s overall experience.
  • Deliver a “wow” factor, and great first impression as soon as customers walk through your door
  • Enhance features in your restaurant by highlighting and drawing attention to certain areas
  • Change the mood in different spaces of your restaurant throughout all parts of the day

Main Types of Lighting:

Restaurants should include three basic types of lighting, which when combined, not only add to the design, but also complement its purpose and function.

1. Ambient lighting - The general, overall illumination of an environment
2. Task lighting - Helps both customers and employees perform certain tasks like reading the menu and cooking in the kitchen.

3. Accent lighting - Lighting that is used to draw attention to a specific area and create visual interest

How to Improve Your Restaurant’s Lighting

1. Determine the Mood

When considering how to light your restaurant, it's important to think about the mood you want to create and communicate. Not sure about your preferred mood? Consider the types of food you serve, the outfits your servers wear, the colors of your restaurant's interior, and the formality of your establishment; all of these factors should point you in the right direction. A casual pizza place doesn't need candlelit tables, and likewise, an upscale steakhouse shouldn't have blinding fluorescent lighting. It's all about creating a look and feel that corresponds with the other elements of your restaurant.

Creating different moods throughout your restaurant also helps to cater to a larger customer base. Dining areas typically are the central and most important part of a restaurant, so lighting should be uniform, comfortable, and bright enough for customer’s to read their menus. Bars and lounges, on the other hand, can feature more dimmed lighting to offer relaxation and create a more intimate setting.

Check Out this Video to Find Out Why Adding Ambiance is Important in Your Restaurant:

2. Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

What are your restaurant’s hours of operation? Keep in mind what type of mood you want your lighting to create throughout the day. If you run a diner or pancake house and generate most of your sales during the morning rush, you won’t be using the same type of lighting that a romantic, fine dining restaurant would. The early morning hours need lots of light in order for guests to wake up, and for customers to read menus and newspapers easily.

Lunch-time should provide more moderate lighting, especially in fast food restaurants and convenience stores where people won’t be sitting down to eat, but instead grabbing something quickly. Lighting here can even help create faster turnover rates and flow customers in and out more quickly. In atmospheres like fast food restaurants, guests can often become overstimulated and over eat. Likewise, guests who linger and take their time to eat at restaurants with relaxing atmospheres could spend more money there since they aren’t in a rush to leave.

Dinnertime experiences the peak period of customer flow throughout the day since guests can finally relax and unwind. Lighting during this period of time should be easy on the eyes and evoke a relaxed mood

3. Construct Focal Points

Direct customers’ eyes to interesting focal points in your restaurant by highlighting pieces of artwork, sculptural elements, fountains, or even parts of your restaurant like a bar, large menu board, open kitchen, or the entrance to draw attention to these areas. Accent lighting, such as creating illuminated focal points, is brighter than ambient lighting, making it stand out.

4. Natural Lighting

What’s the best thing about using natural light? It’s free! Use this to your benefit by taking advantage of tall windows, doors with large glass panels, and skylights. Situate seating areas and tables around the perimeter of your restaurant by windows, but be mindful not to place customers directly beside doors, as they might not be comfortable with cold breezes or heavy foot traffic.

Understand the natural light patterns and solar directions that your restaurant experiences throughout the day. Patrons who are seated in an eastern or western direction will be affected the most by direct sunlight. If this is the case, make sure to use window tints or blinds to counteract this natural occurrence. Keep in mind seasons, daylight-saving time, and weather, which are other things that will effect natural light shining inside your restaurant.

5. Outdoor Lighting

The outside of your restaurant should act as an extension of your dining experience by serving as an advertisement and attraction. Pay as much attention to outdoor lighting as you do indoors by highlighting the architecture of the building, illuminating signage, and brightening eating areas for when natural light is low. String lights and lanterns onto trellises, light fire pits, place candles on top of tables, and create paths back into the entrance of your establishment using outdoor lighting fixtures and techniques.

Safety and security should also be taken into consideration when designing the lighting for your outdoor patio and deck. Parking lots, entrances, exits, sidewalks, and ramps should all be well lit to prevent accidents. Place spotlights on outdoor signs so people can find your business, and see that you’re open. Outdoor lighting also helps to diminish the chance of vandalism and break-ins from intruders, since many are motion activated and will turn on if sensed.

6. Set it and Forget it!

Due to ever improving technology, lighting design has now enabled users to customize specific settings for their restaurants. Features such as automatic on/off timers, scheduled dimming switches, and app and interface-controlled lighting units allow all the lights in the restaurant to be adjusted with just the tap of a button. Schedule outdoor lighting to turn on at dusk and off at closing time, switch on lights in the kitchen, restrooms, and dining rooms all with one click on your smartphone or tablet, and create dimming settings that will create moods and reduce energy costs.

Popular Restaurant Lighting Fixtures and Their Uses:


  • Hangs from the ceiling and can be positioned over bars, tables, islands, countertops, and host/hostess areas
  • Provides great task lighting for guests when reading menus


  • Hangs from the ceiling and creates a focal point in an entrance way or dining room
  • Provides not just light, but style
  • Creates elegance

Ceiling Fan

  • Provides light and air circulation
  • Great for semi-outdoor patios


  • Serves to provide an accent light
  • Usually placed at eye-level
  • Attaches to walls and is used to flank artwork or mirrors
  • Often used in restrooms as vanity lights


  • Multiple fixtures are attached on a continuous track and can be set to direct light in multiple directions
  • Creates focal points
  • Can be placed on ceilings or beams


  • Installed above the ceiling and has an opening that is flush to the ceiling
  • Sends a narrow band of light in one direction
  • Used for ambient or task lighting


  • Offers no specific design influence, but provides important lighting to rooms dedicated to service and function, like commercial kitchens, dish rooms, and storage areas

Related Resources

Restaurant Kitchen Layouts

Components of a Commercial Kitchen Most people hear "commercial kitchen" and think of ranges, grills, fryers, and maybe a frantic, angry chef yelling out orders. That may be the case, but the true commercial kitchen is much more than just the equipment or personnel found in it. A successful kitchen includes specific components organized in a particular pattern to optimize performance and efficiency. Those components are: Cleaning/washing Storage Food Preparation Meal Cooking Service Cleaning/Washing  The cleaning and washing section of a commercial kitchen includes sinks , warewashing machines , and drying racks . This section is first on the list because without dirty dishes there are no clean dishes to serve your food on. Three-compa

Designing Your Restaurant's Dining Room Layout

Your restaurant seating layout sets the scene for your guests' dining experience and separates you from competitors. However, it's not all about aesthetics. Does it follow all regulations? What is your seating capacity? Can your furniture handle constant use? Consider the following four important factors before opening or renovating your venue. 1.  Regulations and Capacity Before considering potential restaurant dining room design ideas, you need to determine whether you'll be using one or multiple rooms and then allocate all available space. Local code requirements could determine how much square footage you need per customer, as well as aisle width. Contact your local fire department or other government agency to inquire about these

Principles of Commercial Kitchen Design

Classic wisdom tells you to have a place for everything and everything in its place. That means tidy up, be organized, and put things where they belong. That’s great advice for everyone, but restaurant owners and executive chefs should pay special attention. Nothing hamstrings a restaurant like an inefficient kitchen, so taking the time to organize is essential. That doesn’t just mean putting spoons back in the right drawer or pans on the right shelf, either. Those are good places to start, but the true secret to an efficient commercial kitchen is appropriate planning and design. What’s Appropriate for You? Good question. To answer it, you need to consider the purpose of your establishment. What are you passionate about and what are you try

Subscribe now for great deals and industry tips! Sign up for our mailing list to have weekly discounts and industry knowledge sent right to your inbox.

Food Service Resources

Tips, guides, & advice

Explore Resources
  • Visa
  • Discover
  • American Express
  • MasterCard
  • Paypal