Restaurant Lighting Design

At the lighting design studio we believe great restaurant lighting design works best when you don’t notice it. As consumers we’re spoilt for choice, so it’s more important than ever to stand out from the crowd. First impressions really do count and restaurant lighting is crucial.

Some key things to consider when designing lighting in restaurants are:

Light levels – how much light do you need in a restaurant?

Colour temperature – what colour temperature to chose for restaurant light sources?

Colour rendering – what is colour rendering and what CRI to use in a restaurant?

Lighting control – How to control restaurant lighting, what light scenes are required in a restaurant?

As with most lighting schemes, the balance between ambient, task and accent lighting is key. Lighting a canteen or ‘fast food’ outlet requires a very different approach to fine dinning.

Restaurants with a quick turnover and high foot fall require higher levels of ambient light. Typically, an average maintained illuminaince of 300 lux and colour temperature (how warm or cool light appears – see our colour temperature blog here) should be 4000k or 3000k (neutral / warm white).

For most restaurants, intimacy and cosiness is the order of the day, where dramatic lighting is crucial. Ambient light should be kept to a minimum, if not removed completely. Accent light, where interplay between light and dark creates pockets of interest, should reveal materials, texture, highlight artwork and architectural details.

Shadows are arguable more important than light, particularly in a restaurant. Pools of light help to create intimacy. Horizontal linear washes of light will create connotations of sunsets to help relax dinners. Decorative wall lights and feature pendants help to focus attention and create a narrative.

Of course dinning by candle light is terribly romantic. The flicker and warmth of a candle is impossible to replicate, so we advocate the liberal use of candles. But with candle light, colour temperatures of artificial light should be very warm. At the highest 2700k (very warm white), but we often use 2400k and 2200k sources.

Colour rendering is also critical. Not all light sources are made equal, with some rendering colours much better than others. LEDs with a score >80 are good, not good enough for amazing restaurant lighting. Food needs to look fresh, vibrant, crisp and literally shown in the best possible light. A CRI of >90 is excellent and the minimum you should consider. Generally, we opt for a CRI >95 (a partially important element is the R9 (red) value – see our blog on CRI for more information on this).

When it comes to layout, there’s three important considerations, light levels, glare, and flexibility. Clearly it’s important dinners can see food and read menus but many restaurants are massively over lit. Don’t be afraid to go with levels of 20 lux or below (5 lux during the ‘late’ light scene). It’s important to locate or shield light sources to minimize glare (reflected light from glossy finishes can be a particular problem). Table layouts change, so flexibility with restaurant lighting is important. Adjustable fittings, 5amp sockets, and lighting track with spots are key to providing this flexibility.

Sometimes overlooked, lighting to windows needs attention. The view from outside is crucial. It’s crucial to stand out from the crowd and pull customers in. Think of the view through a window like a stage. Foreground, middle ground and background lighting is needed. Another focal point can be open kitchens. In these cases, its really important kitchen lighting is well considered. Of course chefs need plenty of task light, but it’s worth considering how the two spaces interact. A common issue is super bright kitchens that flood restaurants with light spoiling ambience and intimacy. Or worse, and unfortunately all to common, cool white light clashing with the warm colour temperatures of main restaurant. If your restaurant has an open kitchen, we suggest it’s lit to 350lux with a warm 3000k light and little light spill into the main restaurant space.

Lighting control is the final key element for a successful restaurant lighting design. Control systems don’t have to be expensive and should be a top priority. Without proper control, you will be limited to a bank of rotary dimmer switches with lighting varying from day to day. Restaurants generally need 4 lighting scenes – ‘day’, ‘dusk’, ‘night’ and ‘late. As day turns to night, dimming down lighting helps to soften the focus within a room and crank up the atmosphere. The first consideration for control is number of lighting circuits. Each ‘layer’ of light and fitting type needs independent control. Consideration needs to be given to minimum dimming levels 1% is generally still too bright for late night light scenes. Fittings that dim down to 0.02% are often required. The transition time between light scenes is also important. With good control systems it is possible to lengthen the transition between lighting scenes to around 30 seconds, so the change is unnoticeable to diners.

Finally, with LED’s lasting so long (circa 50,000 hours) it’s wise to be careful following trends that could look dated in a few years. One things for sure, the exposed ‘vintage’ style squirrel cage light bulb should be avoided. Over recent years we’ve seen these flood the restaurant scene. Yes, their classic form and warm glow are appealing, but they’re now so common they’ve become humdrum and clichéd.

With lighting it’s the small details that count. You must stand out and pay attention to these details, some of your competitors certainly will.

At the lighting design studio we love restaurant lighting design, so please do feel free to get in touch if you want help with lighting a project.