Top Ten Tips for Restaurant Lighting

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You’ve got your menu ready, every table is styled to the last detail, and you are finally ready to live your dream about owning a restaurant. Except there’s one, tiny problem. No one can see any of the amazing design work and food you are serving because the lighting’s terrible!

Lighting is key in creating any mood or atmosphere, and is especially important when you are trying to entice potential customers.In fact, Npower surveyed 1500 people and found that a shocking 29% of people have walked out of a restaurant due to bad lighting, and a massive 88% of people felt that the lighting affected their opinion of a date or romantic meal.A further break down is that 17% said the room was too bright whereas 12% said it was too dim, showing that striking a balance is key.

So, because lighting can be a make-or-break factor, we’ve come up with 10 top tips about lighting for your restaurant, which should make it shine above the rest!

top ten tips for restaurant lighting

1. Use light in layers

As with any lighting project, remembering the layers of lighting is always a good place to start.First get your Ambient lighting right, and then layer up with Task Lighting for the Bar, Reception Areas, and Tables, and Accent lighting on any cool features or art work on display.

2. Light specific areas differently

Different areas need different levels of lighting depending on what is going on in that area.For example:

Tables = These need to be bright enough for customers to read the menus and see each other, but subdued enough to create a private space and not be glaring.Many places use a soft, diffused light for these, and pendant lights are very popular at the moment.

Reception/ Seating Area = This area needs to be lit slightly brighter than the restaurant itself, so staff can communicate easily with customers, and to give the area a welcoming feel, especially at night.This is a good place to put in decorative lights like pendants as well, as they are provide a feature to look at while guests are waiting to be seated.

Salad Bar/ Buffet Lighting = If your restaurant is going to have either of these, the lighting needs to marry both aesthetics and practicability. Food-safe lighting and dimmable spotlights are recommended, so there is sufficient lighting that is good for the food.

Kitchen = This needs bright lighting, with specific task lights. However, the key is to make the lights regulation bright in the kitchen, without it spilling over into the dining area, meaning planning of doors or service corridors need to be taken into account, and lit appropriately too.

Focal Points = For example your menu board or art pieces, which can be lit by track lights or single spotlights, although if it is too far back, the light could shine in someone’s eyes, so placement is key.

3. Avoid glare with lighting

Unshielded lamps, or mismatched lamp and shade sizes can often cause glare. This is annoying for customers who have the light shining in their eyes, and can be dangerous for staff trying to carry and serve food.

4. Light for the people using your restaurant

Lighting for the people within the restaurant, rather than just because it complements the architecture is really important because if the customers are comfortable, they’ll be able too relax more and have a better experience.  This could include making sure there is a slight variety of lighting at the tables, with some a little more brightly lit than others, as this gives people more freedom of choice.  Also making sure the staff have sufficient lighting for things like seeing where they are going or to read any bookings will make for quicker and better service times.

Although this lighting looks really cool, the staff might find navigating the table difficult

5. Use light to enhance the food on display

This is where good colour rendering is vital, as you want your food to look as appealing as possible.  Under bad colour rendering, food can look bland and washed-out whereas good colour rendering allows for colours to pop and for subtle colour differences to appear more, adding more nuance to the dish.

6. Change lighting for specific times of the day

Different times of day need different lighting, just like in a home, an office, or outside.

  • Breakfast- For early in the day, everyone recommends bright lighting that mimics daylight, as this means people can read the papers and get into a positive mood for the rest of their day.
  • Lunch- Moderate lighting is recommended here, as this sets the pace for the fast turnover of customers that happens midday, especially in fast food restaurants.
  • Dinner- Lower intensity lighting sets the mood here, creating an intimate, leisurely atmosphere that helps customers wind down after a busy day.  This can also indicate higher quality food as it mimics fine dining establishments.

These varying requirements is why having a dimming panel, and dimmable lights is really important for any restaurant these days, as it gives you control to create different atmospheres, and makes the restaurant more energy efficient at the same time.

7. Don't choose aesthetics over functionality

This links to point 4 about lighting for people.  Don’t just use lights because they look pretty, but because they serve the function they are designed for.  In general there should be at least 15 lumens per square foot,  with this moving up to 30 lumens on tables.  Also make sure your lights can be put onto a really bright setting for when it is cleaning time after service, as then you can be sure every bit of table and floor is clean.

8. Don't forget the important of outdoor lighting

Don’t block the ambient lighting from inside with blinds on the windows, as this makes the restaurant look closed and less appealing. Translucent shades or tinted glass can create privacy if that’s desired, or no blocks at all gives you a chance to show off the interior to both pre-booked customers and those passing in the street. Maintaining your lights, both inside and out, is also really important for those good first impressions.

9. Choose a consistent lighting theme

Although different lights can look good and interesting, having too many different styles can be overcrowded and confusing. Sticking to 3-4 different types means there is some consistency within the design, without making it generic and too uniform.  This also means that you’re more likely to have spares, although if you use LEDs, you may be waiting a while to use them! Even lighting will also avoid there being hot spots that are too bright, and cold spots where more light is needed.

10. Choose energy saving light bulbs

With the advances in LED technology, the lights are becoming increasingly popular in all types of industries, including restaurants.  Although some may be put off by the slightly higher initial prices, the lights pay for themselves in energy savings, and don’t have to be replaced as often with a 50,000 hour life-span.

You can view our range of LEDs here or speak to the team about your specific project on 0113 8876270 or email

Sources used:

Npower survey results

Bright Ideas: Smart Choices in Restaurant Lighting

Food Safety Magazine: Shedding Light on the Art and Science of Lighting

POS Sector: Basic rules about lighting in a restaurant The Right Lighting for you Restaurant

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