One of the biggest mistakes that a restaurateur can make when opening a restaurant is a lack of attention to detail. People come to a restaurant for an immersive experience. While good food is important, so is a restaurant’s atmosphere. The atmosphere of a restaurant must align with the general concept of the restaurant. The music, decor, and lighting all play into the atmosphere, which in turn must complement the food being served.
Importantly, the atmosphere is not set in stone. While it is rather difficult to make major changes to the decor, and virtually impossible to change things such as wall finishings and flooring, restaurateurs can and should vary the music and lighting in order to match the food served at various times of day. In general, diners expect dimmer lights and more relaxing music during dinner, and a brighter atmosphere with more upbeat music during the lunch rush. Notably, the atmosphere should align with the restaurant’s concept. A family-centered restaurant may want to have bright lights and upbeat music around the clock, while an establishment designed to resemble a speakeasy may choose to have 1920s music playing and fairly dark lighting throughout the day.
Following are some general guidelines and considerations that restaurant developers should keep in mind as they think about the atmosphere that they want to create at their restaurant:
Restaurateurs often underestimate the impact of lighting on the mood of diners. A bright room sets a completely different tone than a darker one. Similarly, lights that highlight the sharp architectural elements of a room set a different tone than those focused on softer curves. Restaurant developers should think about the mood that they wish to invoke in a space and plan the lighting around it.
The amount of lighting should change throughout the day at most restaurants. If a restaurant serves breakfast, then bright light will be needed. In the morning, people want to wake up and be energized. However, on the weekends, especially during brunch service when people may be feeling the effects of the night before, softer lighting may be more appropriate. Soft lighting actually makes people linger in a restaurant longer because they begin to feel more relaxed. For this reason, many restaurants choose to keep the lights fairly bright during the lunch hour in order to increase the turnover rate for tables.
During the dinner hour, most restaurants should adopt low-intensity lighting so that people are encouraged to relax and take their time eating their meals. Fine dining restaurants in particular should almost always use soft lighting during the dinner hour in order to encourage romantic moments among diners. The only restaurants that do not use low light are fast food establishments, family restaurants, and theme restaurants.
Customers tend to be more conscious of music than lighting. For this reason, restaurants developers should think hard about the impression that they want to make with their music. Often, diners’ first impression of a restaurant is colored heavily by the music playing when they enter. A safe choice is to use so-called “elevator music,” which typically blends into the background and does not get noticed at all. While this option minimizes the distractions experienced by diners, it may seem incongruous with the restaurant, especially if the rest of the décor is loud and adventurous. Similarly, if the restaurant is a sports bar or Mexican restaurant, then “elevator music” will seem very out of place.
The other option is for the restaurant developer to curate a list of songs for the restaurant, or to pay someone else to do so. The risk here is that the soundtrack can become very repetitive. Even if the playlist contains 1,000 sounds, it will get repetitive after a few weeks. Some restaurateurs have purchased subscriptions to customizable radio services, such as Pandora. While this option can work well, it runs the risk of playing a song that really does not fit, and someone will need to pay attention to upcoming songs in order to nix any that might not go over well with guests. These two options tend to work best in restaurants with a relaxed atmosphere where something has to be really out of place in order to stand out.
Some restaurant developers allow their staff to curate the playlist. This approach can keep the playlist fresh over time, and setting ground rules can help avoid unwanted effects. At the same time, this approach involves a great deal of trust in employees.
The decor needs to reflect the personality and tone of the restaurant. Just as music can stand out or fade into the background, the decor can make a statement or be understated enough not to make a huge impact one way or another. Casual dining spots can reflect the personality of a restaurant developer more than fine dining establishments, where diners will expect a certain level of refinement. In general, restaurants that are upscale tend to have a more understated decor in order to allow the food and other elements of the atmosphere shine through.
When thinking about a restaurant’s decor, it is important to consider the impression that a restaurateur wants to create as diners walk through the door. Ornate wooden tables create a different impression than simple round tables with white tablecloths. Many restaurateurs choose to work with professional designers to ensure that the decor matches the personality of the restaurant as much as possible. In order to develop the ideal decor, restaurateurs should get as many opinions as possible, which is the best way to anticipate how diners will react.