How to Choose Lighting for Restaurants? The Definitive Guide

Have you ever had so much fun dining in a restaurant with your family and friends that you didn’t want to leave? And sometimes, even if the food tastes fantastic, you want to leave the place and breath some fresh air. Studies show that it’s primarily because of restaurant lighting. That’s the extent of the psychological effect lighting has on people. It can make or break your business. 

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So, here we’ve compiled a detailed guide to restaurant lighting to help you choose the best lighting designs.

Suspended Restaurant Lights

9 Restaurant Lighting Ideas to Consider For Successful Business 

1. Playing with Brightness 

You may have wondered why fancy restaurants have low lighting. It’s because fine dining focuses on a cozy and comfortable ambiance. Low-brightness lighting also minimizes glare which reduces unnecessary eyestrains and headaches. However, fast food and family-centered places need a more lively lighting experience which generally needs high brightness. 

We recommend installing dimmable lights to adjust the brightness with outside light. During the day, make the lights brighter so that whenever someone enters your diner, their eyes take less time to adjust. Similarly, at night dim the lights for a more welcoming vibe. 

2. Brand Identity 

Use restaurant lighting to promote your unique brand identity. You can use colors, brightness, and lights like neon, recessed cans, and pendant lights to create a vibe that represents your brand.

The brand identity could be anything from your brand logo to a mascot or the type of food you serve your customers.

A tavern can make use of low-temperature lighting for a vintage feel. Similarly, a seafood eatery can use green and blue colors to imitate the oceanic feel.

3. Time-Based  

Each time of the day requires a different type of lighting. If you own a breakfast diner or café, it’s best to use bright and natural lighting for a refreshing ambiance. The target audience could be office-goers or someone who just had a workout. Likewise, a bar is mostly active late at night, where warm temperature lights work best to create relaxing vibes. Different lighting brightness and temperatures for each time of the day will drive the most customers. One way to achieve this is by using dimmable and smart lights.

4. Temperatures and CRI 

Color temperatures allow you to be creative with your lighting design. Warm lighting (2500K to 3500K ) gives off a yellowish hue that instantly triggers feelings of ease in people. It’s best for cafes, bars, and taprooms. 

Likewise, cool lighting and natural light (3500K to 4500K) is best for coffee houses, breakfast eateries, or family restaurants. You can also make use of sunlight by installing large translucent windows. 

Furthermore, it would be best if you had high CRI-rated bulbs as they draw out the natural colors of the food, making them appear fresh and appetizing. Low color rendering can fade out colors turning everything dull. 

What color lighting is best for food?

Research studies show that colors directly affect the appetite of your customers.  Off-white, yellow and green colors are best for lighting food places. However, avoid blue, purple, or dark shadows as they are appetite suppressants. 

Vibrant color of food under high CRI rated bulbs

5. Theme-Based 

Our next recommendation is theme-based lighting, a popular strategy for attracting business. Though it will require a little effort, it’s worth it. For a theme, you can use a special event like New year’s eve, Christmas, or Valentine’s Day. Similarly, using a sports event like the super bowl or NCAA final four for a lighting theme is also a good choice. 

LED lights make this switch easier as they come with multiple adjustable colors, temperatures, and dimming capabilities.  

6.  Minimalist

Why not try something trendy and adopt a minimalist lighting design? More isn’t always the better, and that’s the main principle behind minimalist restaurant lighting. Linear lights, straight pendant lights, and surface-mounted lighting fixtures are best suited for minimalistic vibes. It can add character, simplicity, and elegance to the place, creating an exquisite aura. 

Minimalistic restaurant lighting

7.  Boho Chic

 Boho chic is a laid-back and relaxing lighting design representing bohemian culture. It uses bold colors, patterns, and designs to create uplifting vibes. Warmer and vibrant colors create comfort for customers. You can also use plants and antique interior décor with accent lighting to create the perfect ambiance for your restaurants. However, it’s not easy to pull off because of its artistic nature, especially if it’s your first food business. 

Boho chic restaurant lighting

8. Compliment the Decor

Your décor must complement the lighting design for practical illumination. Many restaurant owners make the mistake of stuffing decorations all over the place, which casts unnecessary shadows in the area. The décor either cuts off the light beam, or the lighting colors don’t match it. The best way is to focus on interior design and lighting in parallel.

9. Outdoor Lighting 

We’ve talked about interior lighting a lot, but outdoor lighting is just as important. Make use of architectural and landscape lighting to attract more customers. In some cases where competition is high, only the restaurant with the best outdoor lighting will get customers’ attention.  Use high-quality luminaires like neon, sign board lights, spotlights, flood lights, bollard lights, and path lights to gain people’s attention. The outdoor lighting should represent your brand. 

3 Types of Restaurant Lighting Methods 

1. Ambient

Ambient lighting sets the right mood and feeling for the place. You can use different lighting colors and temperatures to achieve such an ambiance. For example, many restaurants use shades of red, warmer, dim lights, and fancy chandeliers to create intimate vibes. 

2. Accent 

Lighting design is not just to light up the place. It can also work to highlight architectural features, also called accent lighting. Do you have a specialized ceiling? Use it to create an attractive design. You can work with stone walls, artwork, cabinets, and decor. 

 Wall washers, spotlights, and recessed light fixtures work perfectly for accent lighting. 

3. Task 

Task lighting is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a lighting design that focuses on a specific task. In restaurants, it’s used to light up tables, bars, salad bars, and kitchens. Proper task lighting is beneficial for customers and the staff.  Track lighting is most popularly used for task lighting. 

Type Of Lighting Fixture Best Suited for Restaurants 

Now that you have some ideas about the popular lighting designs and methods for attractive restaurant lighting, let’s find out what lighting fixtures you can use to achieve it. 

Light Technology                  

Lights come in all shapes, sizes, and types. Traditionally halogen, metal halides, and compact fluorescent lighting were commonly used. However, in recent times light, emitting diodes, aka LED lights, have dominated the market. Older technologies were energy-consuming and had limited colors, temperatures, and dimming capabilities, making restaurant lighting difficult. Nowadays, LED lights give you tons of flexibility to be creative. Though, older lamps are still used on a small scale.

Recessed Light

Recessed lights have minimalistic fixtures that are fixed in the ceiling. The fixture’s body is hidden in the ceiling, making it a much more elegant choice. When properly placed, recessed lighting distributes light evenly. A somewhat similar fixture called surface-mounted lights is also a popular choice. 

Overhead Lights

Overhead light fixtures comprise linear, spotlights, and track lights that direct the light beam to a certain area. These are versatile fixture that works for general lighting as well as task lighting. Placing these lights at a certain angle towards a ceiling or a wall can also create an indirect lighting effect. Bouncing the light beams from a ceiling creates indirect diffuse light, enhancing the place’s appeal. 

Wall washer 

Many interior restaurant designs have some tile work, exposed bricks, or stone walls. Some have specialized walls and ceiling architecture that stands out.

Wall washer light fixtures are the best choice to highlight such features. Wall washing and wall grazing are the two best lighting methodologies for unique restaurant lighting. 

Suspended Lights 

Suspended lights are a must, even if you choose the most simplistic restaurant lighting design. There are a few types of suspended fixtures. Pendant lights have a single bulb and usually have simpler yet stylish designs. Typically, many pendant lights are used to create a unique and majestic ambiance. 

Another popular choice is the chandeliers which have attention-grabbing designs. Chandeliers are mainly used for decoration and general lighting. 

Smart lighting 

Smart or intelligent lighting has a driver and controller at the back to control multiple lighting features. These lights have multiple colors, temperatures, adjustable brightness, and mobile app control. You can even sync lights with music or have an AI assistant like Alexa control the lighting. These smart controls are only possible because of ever-evolving LED light bulbs. Though these lights are expensive, they are a great investment nonetheless. 

Strip and Neon Lights 

LED strips are flexible and versatile lighting options for decorating the restaurant. You can get creative with these and make some awesome lighting designs.

LED neons are also your best option if you want a more cyberpunk vibe. 

Lighting Requirement for Restaurants 

Maintaining lighting levels for restaurants or commercial kitchens must be maintained according to certain safety standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) are authorities in this matter. Both these agencies have certain jurisdictions and provide lighting guidelines to business owners. Adhering to these will have a positive effect on your restaurant business.

These lighting requirements are given in either footcandles(fc), lumens, or lux, which are units for depicting lighting brightness.

Restaurant Lighting Standards 

Many customers complain about how hard it is to read menus in restaurants. IES recommends a minimum of 3 to 6 fc (30-65 lux) at the dining table. OSHO goes even higher and recommends 10 fc for eating places. Even if you don’t want to follow these guidelines, ensure the overall lighting is above 0.4 fc.

If the lighting requirement by IES is too bright for the ambiance, there is some workaround that you do. Use white color or lighter shades of tablecloth as such colors reflect at least 35% more light than darker colors.

Moreover, overhead accent lights are directly above the dining table. Directing light at the table can achieve proper illumination while maintaining low brightness in the rest of the area. However, you may need adequate ambient lighting to complement overhead accents; otherwise, it can create sharp shadows in the surrounding. 

Hire a Lighting Designer 

Proper Lighting design for restaurants is an indicator of future success or loss. So, hiring a professional lighting designer is the right choice. However, seeking professional help can cost you a significant chunk of money. 

Why LED Lights Are Best Suited for Restaurant 

Here are some benefits that might convince you to switch to LEDs, even though the high initial cost is a cause of concern for some. 

Energy Efficient 

LED lighting is 70% more energy efficient than traditional lights. These bulbs produce a minimum amount of heat which makes them highly eco-friendly. This is good news for restaurant owners as food places require continuous lighting for long hours. If caution is taken, most of the profits end up in paying the electricity bills. 


Research shows that modern LEDs have at least fifteen times more life than their counterparts. This will result in low operational and maintenance costs. Moreover, LED fixtures are more resistant to impact and harsh weather.

Rebate Programs 

In the USA, energy rebate programs offer special discounts on electricity bills and other benefits to business owner who adopts eco-friendly lighting solutions. So, take benefit of such initiatives and yield higher profits in your restaurant business. 

Final Thoughts 

Restaurant lighting is easy once you get the basics down. In this guide, we have shared practical restaurant lighting ideas with you that are great for your initial inspiration. You can also review the list of lighting fixtures we recommend for the right lighting. Moreover, ensure you follow the lighting standards, as they are crucial for the safety of your staff and customers. Lastly, we recommend LED lights as they offer amazing benefits. 

Get The Best Restaurant Lighting Solution From RC Lighting 

We’ve presented the case in favor of LED lights in the above guide. But where can you get such high-quality luminaires? RC lighting is your safest bet. We provide premium quality LED lights manufactured in a high-tech facility under the supervision of industry experts. 

You can find the best match for your restaurant using our vast catalog of products such as recessed, spot, linear, track, surface mounted, and pendant lights. Moreover, we also offer outdoor architectural and landscape lighting solutions for restaurants. 

We deal with low MOQs, and our expert team handles customized orders. Plus, you can achieve all this at competitive market rates. So, what are you waiting for? Contact our 24/7 customer service and get your QUOTE NOW

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