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Tips for Restaurant Lighting

After a long work week, you’re ready to visit your favorite and quaint restaurant. The service is pretty good, and the food is exceptional, but your attraction to this place has more to do with the ambiance. After an hour or so here, you completely forget about that stressful thing called a job. With a “switch” in settings, the weekend has officially begun.

Whether you’re going for a casual dinner or a more upscale meal, proper lighting plays a major role in your dining experience. The lighting in a restaurant affects many elements, including food presentation, mood lighting and overall gratification.



Not all restaurants are created equal, and for that matter, neither is the lighting. Consider your typical dining experience at a fast food eatery. It’s saturated in lively colors, loud upbeat music and luminous light. Fluorescent bulbs with a higher color temperature of 3000-4000 Kelvin are often used to achieve this. Lighting in this color temperature produces a brighter white light and can manufacture a more alert setting, hence why you tend to feel rushed when going to a fast food restaurant.

A recent study done by Cornell University discussing lighting and music in fast food restaurants found that individuals consuming meals in brighter lighting and faster music ate more food and enjoyed their dining experience less than individuals eating in dimmer lighting and softer music. Although dimmer lighting, typically produced by incandescents with warmer white color temperatures, can enhance your eating adventure and create a more relaxed and serene ambiance, a lack of lighting can become more of a nuisance. If you can’t see, you’re not able to enjoy that big juicy steak you ordered because you can’t find the knife. The challenge in restaurant lighting comes in finding a balance.

The Food
When eating out, presentation is everything.  If a drink looks amiss or a meal appears unappetizing it may be returned. Patrons are more likely to visit a restaurant if the food and drinks seem tempting.This is why in more upscale eateries they use indirect lighting in the dining area of the restaurant. Direct light may cast shadows on meals, causing them to look unattractive. Light control in a restaurant is also incredibly important to food presentation. Using dimmers to adjust relative lighting helps maintain mood, but it also enhances ambient light levels, creating a softer, gentler light.



This is especially important in more upscale eateries, especially during dinner. Rakeesh Patel is the Senior Project Architect for the plush bistro, Hillstone. During our interview he explained that each restaurant in the Hillstone Restaurant Group has its own unique quality; lighting choices are designed in house.  According to Patel the restaurant incorporates layering in their lighting system, using a variety of low voltage, incandescent,LED and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). They also integrate centralized dimming systems such as Lutron or Marlin to use zone lighting techniques in the restaurant. Zone lighting helps to specify each section properly in a restaurant. For instance, the lights used in the dining area are not usually the lights used in the kitchen; they may also differ in the bathroom and entry way. Patel explained that when it comes to lighting choices, the restaurant wants to achieve “functionality and theatricality to enhance the dining experience.” Since most restaurants utilize a lot of lights, dimmers are a great investment, not only for ambience but for reducing energy costs. Paired with more energy efficient lights such as LEDs and restaurants could see significant savings.


Turns out, lights really do make a difference when you’re grabbing. They can create an atmosphere of rapid movement, or provide a calmer climate to dine in. Plus, with the right lighting your food can look like it just stepped out of a magazine instead of off the street. So, the next time you’re choosing a restaurant consider whether the lights provide the best ‘mood’ for your food.  If we missed something, or you’d like to tell us all about your sign lighting issues, or you need restaurant lighting,please feel free to contact with


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