Light plays a major part in our dining experience: it can entice us into a restaurant, create an ambience and even enhance the appearance of our food and affect the way we eat.

It’s an incredibly valuable tool in the design of a restaurant, yet can easily be overlooked. For the most effective schemes, your lighting should be integrated into the architecture of the space.

1. Integrate Lighting into your Design

Whilst we would be biased here, we cannot stress the importance of the lighting scheme being considered as one of the first elements of the design…

Lighting is far too often an afterthought, which will limit your design potential if considered too late in the project’s development. This could prevent you from running the correct cables, for example, to where you need them. If properly considered and prioritised at the early stages, the lighting design can have a phenomenal impact, adding significant value to the space.

Restaurants and bars can be one of the most complex spaces to light, as each area will have different lighting requirements at different times of the day. Lighting around the bar area will be different to that of the kitchen or over the diners’ tables.

It can be challenging to incorporate all the different lighting tasks into your design, whilst maintaining the right level of light. In one area, you may need to evoke a sense of intimacy with softer, wall lights and in another area you may want to accentuate objects or surfaces with task or accent lighting.

By making lighting integral to your overall design you can factor in elements such as location of drivers and the layout of the venue. Once you have a layout plan you can then decide what is achievable, such as, is it possible to hang individual pendants over tables?

2. Layers of Light

Different products can perform a variety of different tasks and effects. Once you have the design plan, you can understand the purpose of each area within your space and layer your lighting accordingly, without flooding the room.

First, consider the ambient lighting; this is your main source of light within the space.

Once you have your general lighting, you can then design your task lighting. Here, the light is designed to illuminate a specific area where tasks are performed, such as areas that require increased illuminance (food prep areas, toilets or stairways).

Next, incorporate your accent lighting to accentuate key architectural features, such as uplighting columns, walls or small niches.

You may want to add an extra ‘wow’ factor with decorative lighting. It is not always essential or functional, but it can create intrigue and reflect an individual interior design style. If you want to specify decorative lighting, but do not want to overbear the space, why not try one of Ecoled’s special finishes to make your architectural light fitting a decorative feature? Using our antique gold baffle can significant warm up the colour temperature and make the space much cosier…

We have spent time developing a range of finishes that would have originally been for external use only, such as rust or aged copper, and these are unique to our products.

3. The power of indirect lighting

Whilst downlighting is both functional and an effective way to illuminate a space, it should be complemented by other products when designing the lighting in a bar or restaurant. Downlights are a great tool for pinpointing along a bar for example, but can be considered as irritating or unflattering (causing shadowing) if they are directly over a table. Therefore the use of linear lighting that is concealed is a very easy and relatively cost effective solution to create a soft and warm effect, as the light is typically indirect.

At Casa Cruz restaurant in London, Stileman Lighting Design executed this to perfection. Stileman specified Ecoled’s discreet low glare and narrow beam Zep 6 downlight range to highlight the bar area and layered these with concealed linear lights from the Decoline range to be mounted in between the unique copper and mahogany clad walls. This created a stunning aesthetic that maintained a consistent level of light, whilst accentuating key architectural features.

Casa Cruz Restaurant, London

Casa Cruz Restaurant, London

4. Bar lighting

The lighting requirement of a bar is often very different to that of a restaurant. Most bars want to create a vibrant or dramatic scene to provide a greater sense of energy and entertainment, whereas restaurants typically aim to create a more relaxed, intimate environment to dine in. Lighting can provide visitors with a sense of orientation as they enter the venue. Guests will naturally be drawn to a brightly lit bar and it creates a focal point for the space.

Designers may apply brighter lighting or use different coloured lighting around a bar to create a striking, theatrical scene. Isabel Restaurant in Mayfair for example, used concealed linear strip from Ecoled’s Decoline range to brightly illuminate the brass finished bar, using a 2700K colour temperature which complements the finish beautifully.

Isabel Restaurant, London

5. Control Systems

One factor that we strongly advise is installing an automated control system with your lights so that they can be dimmed to reflect the desired mood.

Your lights will need adjusting to suit the different occasions, functions and levels of natural light, which can change throughout the day.

Lighting control through dimming is the key to modulate the intended atmosphere. The level of light and the colour temperature that a customer desires in the morning will be completely different to their requirements later in the day. A control system can give you those ‘scenes’ at a single touch of a button and often allows the user to make their own individual tweaks via an app.

At breakfast, a cooler colour temperature and brighter light is more desirable, whilst evening diners want a more intimate setting with dimmed, warmer lighting which is generally 3000 Kelvin or less.

6. Colour Rendering

Colour rendering is the ability of the light source to render the true colours of objects in question, which is expressed as an index (CRI) score of up to 100 (100 being the colour natural light renders the object). In restaurants and kitchens, your CRI levels should be at least 80, if not higher if you can. If the designer has not considered the colour rendering into the product specification then the visual representation of food and drink may not reach its full potential and could have a negative impact on the customer’s dining experience.

Below is the difference between some strawberries when using different CRI levels to convey the colour:

The best approach to lighting design in restaurants and bars is to spread your light throughout the room with careful consideration to the purpose of each area. Use a flexible lighting scheme that can be controlled on a dimming system so that you can adjust the mood as and when you need to.

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