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Restaurant Lighting

Why is Restaurant Lighting Important?

Last updated on 11/28/2017

One of the most important features of restaurant design is lighting. Lighting in your restaurant can add to the ambiance of your dining room or ruin the experience completely for your customer. But why is restaurant lighting so important? How do you know what kind of lighting is right for your business? And what are the latest technologies to help make lighting your restaurant easy? Keep reading to learn more.

What Are the Main Kinds of Restaurant Lighting?

Restaurant Lighting

There are three main kinds of lighting: ambient, task, and accent. Each type serves a different purpose and can be achieved through different lighting pieces. Below, we describe each type and explain its function.

  • Ambient Lighting is the main source of light in a room, and it can be natural light or provided with electric overhead fixtures. It allows people to see and move around easily and comfortably.
  • Task Lighting allows your customers and staff members to perform functions that may need a more concentrated light source, like reading a menu or cooking. It can take the form of overhead lamps, bright fluorescent lights in your kitchen, or a small table lamp on your hostess stand.
  • Accent Lighting adds drama to your space. It is used to construct focal points around your front-of-house area. This can be done by using light to highlight pieces of artwork or menu boards, or you can use colorful lighting behind a bar or water fixture.

Sometimes light fixtures fit into more than one category of lighting. For instance, having lanterns on an outdoor patio could be considered accent lighting during the day but ambient lighting at night, when there is less natural sunlight.

How Restaurant Lighting Impacts Your Establishment's Mood

Different lighting levels can be used in order to set the mood of your restaurant or bar. This means that customers can either be drawn into your establishment or put off by it simply because of your lighting choices.

Low Lighting

Low lighting can be relaxed and romantic, and it encourages customers to stay longer. Think of a candlelit dinner at a formal restaurant. These settings typically have overhead fixtures with dimmers and lots of accent lighting. The low lighting creates more intimacy, as sections of brighter light, like those over dining tables or your bar area, allow customers to feel like they are more isolated from the other guests in the room.

Note that it is important, even in environments with low lighting, to include enough ambient lighting to perform basic tasks easily and safely.


Bright Lighting

Bright lights provide more stimulation than low lighting. This means that your customers will be awake and alert. Bright lighting is good for high-energy establishments like smoothie shops, cafes, or family-friendly restaurants. This lighting can be achieved with large windows that let in natural light or bright overhead light fixtures.

Lighting for Different Times of Day

When deciding how to light your establishment, keep in mind what type of mood you want your lighting to create throughout the day. What are your restaurant’s hours of operationIf 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. And if you run a business that’s open for multiple meals, it could be worth it to adjust your lighting for your brunch, lunch, dinner, or other meal services.

  • Breakfast - Bright lighting should be used for meal services earlier in the day. In the morning, customers need bright light to wake up and read their newspapers as they enjoy their coffee. Natural light is the ideal source for this.
  • Lunch - Lunchtime services should have moderate lighting. Higher lighting levels are especially good for fast food restaurants and convenience stores, where people won’t be sitting down to eat, but they are grabbing something quickly instead. Lighting can even help create faster turnover rates and flow customers in and out more quickly, so keep this in mind if you'd like your busiest meal service to move faster.
  • Dinner - Establishments that do most of their sales during dinner services typically try to have a more relaxing atmosphere, regardless of whether it’s a casual or upscale restaurant. Dinnertime is the most popular time to go out to eat, since customers can sit back and relax after their day. When you provide them with a relaxing atmosphere, your guests may linger and spend more on food, drinks, and dessert, giving you a higher profit.

Types of Lighting

dining room lighting ideas

There are multiple types of lighting to choose from when setting up your restaurant. You might also need to light the various areas of your establishment differently to account for time of day and preexisting light.

Lighting Fixtures

Electric light fixtures are the easiest types of lighting to control. They are used in every establishment, and they can include overhead fluorescent lights, recessed lighting, tabletop lighting, candles, and any other lighting that you can control and adapt for your business.

Natural Lighting

Natural lighting is not only a bright way to light up your establishment--it’s also free! Use this to your benefit by taking advantage of tall windows, doors with large glass panels, and skylights, if you’re able to. 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.

To best use natural light, you need to understand the natural light patterns that your restaurant experiences throughout the day due to the movement of the sun. Patrons who are seated facing towards the east or west will be affected the most by direct sunlight, so make sure to install curtains or blinds on your windows to help keep the sun out of their eyes. You should also consider the seasons and the weather, which are other factors that will affect the natural light shining into your restaurant.

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 outdoor lighting options are motion activated.

Smart Lighting

As technology advances, there are more and more devices to help you run your restaurant, including tools to manage your restaurant lighting. Depending on the system you choose, you can access a variety of features. Some of these available features include automatic shut-off, daylight sensors, level control, dimming control, signage control, event scheduling, occupancy/vacancy sensors, and timelocks.

These systems and their features allow you to customize and automate your shades and artificial lighting sources based on your operating hours, amount of natural light, and other factors to save time and money on your utility bills. For instance, your lights can gradually become brighter in the half hour before your bar closes to signal to your late-night patrons that it's time to finish their drinks. You can also have lights that shut off automatically when no one is in the room.

Many of these systems can even be conveniently controlled via control panel in your restaurant or your smartphone, desktop, or tablet app. That way, you can handle all of your lighting from one convenient, and sometimes mobile, place. In addition to lighting, these different technologies can control other facets of your establishment, like music, televisions, thermostats, fans, and your security system.

If you’re looking for a smart lighting system for your restaurant, check out these popular options:

Popular Restaurant Lighting Fixtures and Their Uses

types of lighting

Pendant Lights

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

restaurants lighting

Chandeliers

Hangs from the ceiling and creates a focal point in an entrance way or dining room
Provides light and elegant style

lighting for restaurants

Ceiling Fans

• Creates light and air circulation
Great for covered outdoor patios

restaurants lighting fixtures

Wall Lamps

• Provides accent lighting
• Attached to walls and can be used to flank artwork or mirrors
• Often used in restrooms as vanity lights

restaurant lighting

Track Lighting

• 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

restaurant light fixture

Recessed Lighting

• Have openings that are flush to the ceiling
Send narrow bands of light downwards
• Used for ambient or task lighting

restaurant lighting fixtures

Utility 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

Lighting is an extremely important part of restaurant design. From the different types of lighting and the proper use of natural light to the latest technology in smart lighting, there’s a lot to take into account. So whether you’re trying to set the right mood in your new bar or you need to adjust your restaurant between your lunch and dinner services, lighting can make all the difference.

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