With over 1 million restaurant locations spread across the U.S. as of 2019, hungry diners clearly have plenty of options to choose from for each meal. If you want your restaurant to win over a healthy proportion of the diners in your area, you'll need to do more than just offer great food and top service.
Ambiance plays a surprisingly important role in restaurant success. Regardless of the size, theme, or cuisine type you choose for your business, you'll need to develop the right atmosphere to bring new customers in and keep them coming back for more.
There's no type of restaurant too small or informal to benefit from ambiance. Restaurant ambiance includes all the sensory factors that come into play aside from the food you serve, from the color of the walls to the music you play in the background.
Why is Ambiance Important?
Restaurants with good ambiance make customers feel comfortable and happy. Poor ambiance can make a guest feel cramped, rushed, or like they're spending too much or too little for the experience.
For example, imagine going to a restaurant that claims to serve only the finest French cuisine with a corresponding price tag. If you arrive to find your elbows bumping into your neighbor's sides and eat off a tablecloth that is covered in stains, you'll wonder if the food is really as high quality as the restaurant claims.
It's never too late to improve the ambiance of an existing restaurant, but it's best to consider the interior design and other factors from the beginning for a strong start for a new business.
Restaurant Layout Considerations
The layout of tables, chairs, and booths in your restaurant play a big role in how customers experience the space. Widely spaced tables offer privacy and a high-end atmosphere, but keeping everyone too far apart may make them feel isolated and singled out.
In contrast, spacing that is too tight will lead to discomfort as diners bump into each other and worry that their neighbors are eavesdropping on them. Aim for at least three to five feet between tables for a good balance of distance and closeness, stretching this distance farther if you're going for a high-end atmosphere. Arrange booths around the perimeter of the room and consider skipping them entirely if you're aiming for luxury.
Appropriate Restaurant Music
You may love upbeat pop songs, but will diners want to listen to fast-paced songs while enjoying slow-paced romantic dinners? Of course, slow and dramatic classical music is an atmospheric mismatch when you're serving snacks and sweets to busy families in a diner setting.
Consider the target audience and the type of meals they'll be eating when picking the music for building restaurant ambiance. Slow and quiet music allows for more conversation between diners, which makes it a good fit for restaurants primarily serving people going out for celebrations and dates.
If you're trying to draw in a younger crowd or serve the bulk of your customers during the day, upbeat and louder music may be a better match. Keep the music level low enough that customers aren't raising their voices over it or you'll quickly develop a loud dining area that has little ambiance regardless of your other efforts.
How to Choose Between Restaurant Interior Design Themes
Your decorating theme should be driven primarily by the cuisine you choose to serve. No one expects to eat authentic Thai cuisine in a 1950s retro diner. While you might get some initial buzz for an unusual combination of decor and cuisine, eventually the dissonance will lead to a lack of repeat business.
This doesn't mean you are stuck with the same old decor that every other restaurant features in your niche. Just make sure your interior design is at least a variation on a known theme rather than a completely random choice. For example, high-end restaurants tend to feature rich materials, dark colors, and high ceilings, while more casual locations stick to brighter color palettes and kitschy decorations.
Lighting Your Dining Room
Proper lighting is often ignored in new restaurants until there's a noticeable dip in customer traffic. Table lighting must be bright enough to clearly illuminate the food for easy dining, while not so bright that it ruins the mood you're setting. Dim lighting is acceptable in romantic and upscale locations, but don't dim the lamps so much that diners have trouble seeing the food.
Visual appeal is a major part of eating, so candlelight alone may leave customers lacking in appreciation for the chef's hard work. Individual lighting for each table is usually the best approach so that diners get just enough light while creating an atmosphere of privacy between tables. Fast-casual and family restaurants can get away with general interior lighting instead, especially if they're primarily serving customers during daylight hours.
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