When people go out to eat, they are paying for more than their food. Patrons are interested in enjoying their meal in a particular atmosphere. This might range from the elegance of a classic fine dining establishment to the rough-hewn charm of the neighborhood dive bar and grill. As a student in a culinary arts program, you’ll learn to make great meals but also about the importance of developing an appropriate ambience.
Building on the concept
To be successful, the restaurant’s atmosphere should be based in its concept. Whether it’s a beer and burger joint or French bistro, you must begin with a clear sense of the space’s identity. Consider factors like the style of food, the location, your target customers and how quickly you need to turn over tables. Each of these elements will guide your decisions as you develop a plan to attract new guests and make them want to come back.
Everyone has eaten in restaurants where the walls are covered with clashing decorations of questionable taste. A focused design sense can make diners feel transported from their day-to-day worries or welcomed and at home. A few abstract paintings might suit a restaurant specializing in new American cuisine, while industrial edges and vinyl records would be better for a youth-oriented gastropub. Televisions suggest that people should gather to watch sports or films, while an eye-catching sculpture can make the space seem unique and add a touch of class.
Fast Company Design highlighted a few winners of the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards. At the nightclub Toy in New York City, a huge ceiling installation of mirrored triangles features alternating projected images. Bangalore Express in London invites diners to ascend to the upper level of its double-decker booths with steel step ladders. While these kinds of innovative concepts might be beyond most restaurateurs’ means, they show how intriguing choices in decor can become attractions in themselves.
An Australian study suggested that the music played in a restaurant can significantly change patrons’ perceptions of a restaurant. It even affected how much they were willing to spend, with classical, jazz or popular music correlated to customers to throwing down more money than easy listening.
For many people, the tunes playing in a location have a powerful, visceral impact. Hearing a song they love can make them think better of the restaurant and its employees, while one they find annoying can have the opposite effect. Of course, catering to everyone’s individual taste is impossible, so choose music that suits the overall effect you are looking for.
Score pointed out that faster, louder music makes the place feel hipper and edgier while encouraging people to hurry up and finish their meals. Regular performances by live bands or DJs might attract large crowds. By contrast, quieter music – or none at all – invites patrons to take their time and enjoy conversation with a date or friends. As they do so, they are likely to order dessert, cocktails or wine.
Lighting can range from elaborate, brightly lit chandeliers to dim fixtures with colored light bulbs. As Restaurant Branding Roadmap explained, these options play a major role in setting the ambience. The illumination affects the appearances of both the food and the people. Natural lighting offers a wholesome feel, but it can become blinding at certain times of day. Often, spaces bring the lights down over the course of the evening to create a more intimate environment.
Fine dining restaurants generally strive to allow each party as much private space as possible, leaving large gaps between tables. On the other hand, communal seating has become an increasingly popular choice in recent years. These shared tables allow restaurants to pack in more people while encouraging customers to engage in social interactions and make new friends.
However, as The Atlantic pointed out, the good intentions behind communal dining often backfire. Many restaurant patrons dislike being seated near strangers, and they find themselves in the situation of being in close proximity without exchanging a single word. Restaurant owners must consider whether the food and drink they have on hand will be interesting enough for customers to look past this awkwardness.
A great atmosphere is vital for keeping customers coming back and building buzz for a restaurant. With a clear sense of the establishment’s purpose and identity, you can create a harmonious combination of look and sound to match the tastes.