In this article from a restaurant interior designer, we will explore the effects of restaurant acoustics on the perception of food and drink, and how it affects restaurant diners’ behavior.
You may have heard it said somewhere that you never really know the smell of your own kitchen. That’s fine if you’re a homeowner, but it’s a very different case if you run and/or manage a dining establishment. Scent, as a component of restaurant floor planning, can influence not just diners’ opinions of your business, but also their spending habits. The sense of smell is very closely linked to memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. Think of certain foods you’ve eaten a lot as a child. If your mother often baked a lot of bread, passing a bakery may bring you back to afternoons spent in the kitchen of your childhood home, triggering happy, comfortable memories. On the other hand, you may hate broccoli today because its smell reminds you of all those battles of will waged at the dinner table.
Any bakery owner worth their salt knows this: It’s why many bakeries are laid out similar to retail stores, with bread lining the walls and propped up on tables. Not only will the loaves tempt you with their beautiful, burnished surfaces, their aroma will also surround you. Many bakeries will even have burlap sacks of flour lying around for that homey effect. There are also smells that can change a person’s perspective of a room. Apple and cucumber scents, for example, make a room feel bigger and more airy. Barbecue smoke, on the other hand, makes a room stuffy and feel smaller than it actually is.
There’s much to be said about how a space is constructed and what color paint is on its walls, and how both these things lend to creating a restaurant’s atmosphere. However, it’s also important to note that without light to see them, these things are essentially useless.
However, according to an associate professor of business management at the Culinary Institute of America, lighting is the first thing that restaurant interior design gets wrong: Think about all the times you’ve walked into a dimly lit establishment and have had to hold up your phone to read your menu.
There are three main types of lighting, divided according to their purpose – Ambient Lighting – This is the general illumination of an environment. As its name suggests, it’s also responsible for a restaurant’s overall mood. Low lighting creates an intimate, upscale atmosphere, especially in a restaurant’s bar and lounge areas, where patrons are more apt at to lean close together.
Of all the elements of restaurant interior design, acoustics probably needs the most delicate balancing. Too loud and you’ll irk diners who can’t hear each other over their hors d’oeuvres; too quiet and guests will be uneasy, worrying that the next table can hear everything they’re saying. What is the right level of restaurant acoustics?
Of course, if diners can’t hear each other over the din, they resort to raising their voices, which in turn raises noise levels even further — this is called the Lombard Effect. Sabato Sagaria, the chief restaurant officer for Union Square Hospitality Group, says that the art of conversation cannot be overvalued. “People dine out to socialize.”
Task Lighting – This helps customers and employees perform tasks, like reading the menu, being able to clearly see the table setting and food, and cooking in the kitchen. In a place that’s generally low-lighted, a salad bar or buffet station needs task lighting to help it stand out; this is also helpful for illuminating pathways. It also helps with seeing reflections clearly in the restrooms’ mirrors.
How to Create Atmosphere and Perception with Restaurant Lighting
An upscale restaurant during dinner time should have warm-colored, low-intensity lighting. This creates a leisurely, intimate, and relaxed atmosphere. A pleasant mood is created using wall lighting, instead of light coming down directly from the ceiling. To make a space seem spacious, evenly distribute high-intensity lights.
Use color, but sparingly. Lighting can help reinforce branding, but using too many colors will put your restaurant at risk of looking like a nightclub or circus.
You want to be able to have a pleasant dinner, where no one is shouting, but at the same time you want to feel like you’re in a social environment. It should sound like there’s stuff happening around you, but you’re not bombarded by it.
The perfect environment, therefore, should be similar to a gathering at home: There’s carpeting, drapes, and table linen, all of which absorb some of the sounds, so you don’t have to shout to be heard across the table. If you’re designing a more upscale restaurant, this shouldn’t be a problem, as nice linen is the norm.