Most people know that lighting plays a major role in the overall feeling of a space. Bright, blue lights communicate a professional, clean atmosphere. Warm, dim lights create drama or romance. Industrial restaurant lighting feels modern and welcoming. Your lighting choices have a direct impact on guests’ impressions of your restaurant.
The importance of intentional restaurant lighting is too often forgotten when it comes to outdoor spaces. Lackluster lighting for outdoor dining areas can leave guests, without quite understanding why, feeling “meh” about their meal—no matter how delicious their food was.
Great lighting at an outdoor table, however, can make guests want to stay longer, and leaves them content and satisfied when the leave. They’ll remember their experience fondly, and likely return for more.
Create Mood for a Better Dining Experience
You probably have a vision for the type of restaurant you want to own or manage. You know what kind of food you serve, what kind of guests filter in and out each day, and what kind of atmosphere they should experience while they’re there.
While that atmosphere may vary from restaurant to restaurant, the way you create it is generally the same. Of course, the furniture and decor will play a role—but it can’t finish the job alone. The right lighting will compliment the entire restaurant, creating a mood that transforms the functional task of eating into an unforgettable experience.
Choosing Your Restaurant Lighting Design
If your restaurant is open for multiple meals—breakfast and lunch, or lunch and dinner, or all three—you’ll want to vary the mood accordingly. Make sure your lighting options are flexible enough to keep up with the changing times of day by using dimmable lights and having more than one layer to your lighting scheme.
For a breakfast restaurant, guests come in to wake up and prepare for the day. Bright lighting goes great with early morning caffeine! Bright lighting doesn’t have to be harsh, though. In the morning, natural light is plentiful—use it to your advantage! Most likely, on days where guests want to eat outside, you won’t need additional lighting in your outdoor dining room.
Lunch typically requires neither bright nor dim lighting. This middle-of-the-day meal feels most natural with middle-of-the-road lighting. For an outdoor seating area, work with natural light, soft lanterns or string lights, or even shades or curtains to provide a soft, medium-level of light.
For most restaurants, dinner lighting is dim, relaxing, and warm. If guests feel comfortable in your space, they’re more likely to stay longer and order after-dinner drinks and desserts. Once the sun sets, you can create a warm feeling with glowy string lights, lanterns, or even hanging pendants if you have the appropriate wiring.
In general, your restaurant lighting should grow dimmer as the day goes on.
Of course, if your restaurant has a specific theme, you’ll want to tailor your lighting design to suit its style.
For example—you may seat a lot of guests for dinner, but maybe they are mostly families. In that case, a slightly brighter lighting scheme will serve your guests more appropriately than a dim, romantic dinner scheme.
Our biggest piece of advice? Know your audience!
Ambient lighting provides general lighting for a space, allowing people to see without strain. In an outdoor restaurant space, this light can be provided by natural light or overhead fixtures, like string lights.
Task lighting is highly specific light that makes certain functions possible, like a reading lamp next to a reading chair, or a desk lamp in an office. For your restaurant, task lighting will be important so that guests can read their menus, and so hosts and hostesses can see important items at their stand.
Accent lighting lets you create depth and intrigue in your space by drawing attention to key focal points. For example, on an outdoor patio, a focal point could be an architectural feature on the outside of your restaurant, a water feature, or even the back of an outdoor bar. Landscape lighting is also included in this category—it lights foliage the way indoor accent lighting would light a painting.
When you include all three types of lighting in your space, the difference is noticeable. It will feel more comfortable for both your staff and your guests—meaning better service and more positive Yelp reviews!
Outdoor Lighting Ideas for Every Mood
String lights in outdoor seating areas are a popular choice for a reason. LED edison bulbs strung overhead lend a timeless look that will make guests excited to spend time at your restaurant.
A candle on every table creates romance and atmosphere, and provides a touch of light to make menus easier to read—especially at night. Outdoors, it can be a bit difficult to deal with an open flame. Opt for electric tea lights or candle-style light bulb to achieve the same effect without the frustration.
Natural materials are having a major moment in interior design, but they feel even more at home outdoors. Wicker, bamboo, and rattan light fixtures maximize the outdoor dining experience and give off a comfortable, warm glow.
If you’re going for more drama or a formal, upscale feeling, look into hanging a few dramatic chandeliers throughout your outdoor space. Candle-style bulbs will look natural without blowing out in the wind.
If you want a more subtle lighting scheme, install track lighting along the outside of your restaurant and in patio ceilings. The fixtures will easily recede into the background, but with the right light bulbs, you can still create effective and warm ambient light.
The Best Light Bulbs for Restaurants
TCP Lighting can help you choose the best lighting for your restaurant space. You can count on us through every step of the process, from a design consultation to a post-project follow-up.
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