Recently, I sat down at one of those “fast-casual” restaurants for a quick meal and coffee. I chose this location for the atmosphere and quality of food. As I walked up to the counter to place my order, my nose was filled with smells of hearty soups, fresh breads and coffee. There was soft music playing in the background and the walls, tables and chairs were all muted coffee house type colors. These were all deliberate choices by the creators of this restaurant concept. There are so many aspects involved when designing a dining environment and all the senses should be engaged.
Once the concept for this restaurant was developed, the lighting designers began working. They created a lighting layout, decided on fixtures and mapped out each space based on what they wished to evoke; privacy, spaciousness, etc.
The lighting at this restaurant was well thought out. It was bright enough in the employee work areas but dimmed slightly in the dining areas. Also, accent lighting was used on the artwork. They created an inviting environment that invites many customers to return to on a regular basis.
Proper lighting completes the restaurant concept. However, it seems that the value of well-designed lighting often goes unnoticed. Sure, there is a lot to know and it can sometimes be confusing, but with some basic lighting education (and perhaps a lighting design professional) this task may not be as daunting as you think.
As an owner or manager, it may be difficult to see your restaurant in a new light.
Are you fixtures out-of-date? Are you using efficient lighting technology? What IS the most efficient lighting technology? How can I make my food look better? Can my guests see their food?
Before we get too far ahead, let’s take a few steps back and look at the different types of light within a space. They are most commonly referred to as Ambient, Task and Accent Lighting.
For lighting just about any space, a good rule of thumb is to use all three types for style and function. While these concepts are commonly used within restaurant lighting design, keep them in mind as all of these suggestions can easily be applied to your home or any other type of business.
A restaurant will have a number of different public and private spaces including a foyer, hostess station, dining room, bar, take-out stations, kitchen and offices where this rule would apply.
Ambient Lighting, also known as general lighting provides an area with overall illumination. It is typically, the first light you see when entering a room. In some applications, such as a take-out station, it may also serve as task lighting.
It may take the form of ceiling-mounted or recessed can fixtures as well as wall sconces, track lighting or chandeliers. Ambient Light should be your first consideration when planning the layers of light in your space. However, in some instances, this may not be the case. There may be a task-oriented room or perhaps a hallway where accent lighting could take precedence.
Task Lighting, as you might imagine, is for performing specific tasks. Front of the house task lighting is extremely important for your managers, host staff, bartenders and servers. Point of sale terminal areas, service stations and host stands all require proper task lighting. Poor lighting in these locations may cause errors in food and drink preparation as well as inaccurate guest checks. Additionally, your restaurant will require house lights. During off hours, bright task lighting will have to take over for cleaning purposes. These may be fluorescent ceiling mounted fixtures, or bringing your dimmed lighting to full brightness…we’ll go over dimming in a future post from this series.
Back of the house: your kitchen, storage, walk-ins and offices are the areas where task lighting should be the first consideration as opposed to ambient lighting.
Common fixtures for task lighting are undercabinet, linear fluorescent strip fixtures, pendants, recessed cans and track lighting. Remember, task lighting should be bright enough to perform the needed task and not produce glare or shadows that may cause distractions or interfere with your accent lighting.
The purpose of Accent Lighting is to highlight particular objects or textures. In a restaurant, these objects may be artwork, sculptures or plants. You may also use accent lighting to draw attention to interior stone design, water features, textiles or window treatments.
Recessed cans, track lighting and wall-mounted picture lights are most common for accent lighting. Generally speaking, accent lighting requires three times as much light at the focal point to stand out from the surrounding light. The area or objects you wish to highlight will blend with the ambient light if there is not a higher saturation of light output from your accent lighting.
In addition to lighting interior spaces, accent lighting is often used in outdoor landscape lighting. This is a perfect opportunity to hightlight beautiful trees, shrubs, water features or specific areas that flank your entrance. While we're on the topic, make sure your restaurant appears open! Proper use of exterior lighting can make all the difference. There are a number of options available and we'll get to the various types of bulbs in a future post.
You’ve made it through Part One!
Be sure to follow The Light Source in the coming weeks for Part Two, Part Three and a Case Study to wrap up this series. Our next post will explore types of fixtures, followed by light bulb options and finishing with our case study about a Massachusetts restaurant interested in replacing 200 halogen bulbs throughout their location with LEDs. We’ll look at difficulties with dimming, our solution and some before and after images.
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