Psychology of Food, the Importance of Restaurant lighting

A strange sub-genre of television has arisen, dedicated to showing behind the scenes of working restaurants. Usually they focus on restaurants on the way out. A few things about these shows are so common they’re borderline cliché. The first is that the food is almost always bad, second the service usually has some glitch in it, and there are management problems. One problem that is almost guaranteed is that the décor is off. This does make sense; when the budget starts to go people tend to not prioritize the appearance. However it’s often a mistake, little things add up, a bad restaurant lighting scheme can make a restaurant look horrible.

Bad restaurant lighting comes in two varieties. The first is too bright and makes the restaurant look cold and clinical, the second is too dark and makes it look dingy. Lighting needs to match the mood, this isn’t just the amount of light but the types of lamps used, and the color of the light. Generally speaking a pub should be less lit than a diner, which should be brighter than a steak house. Some of this is matching cultural and historical expectations, and some of it is building a mood for a restaurant. Since our country is part of the Anglo-Saxon cultural family tree we expect Public Houses (pubs) to in some way resemble the old world Public houses from England, Ireland, and the rest of the British Isles. This means that there will be abundant amounts of wood; if food is served, the food is big, simple, filling meals. We also expect the restaurant lighting to resemble candles and be duller. We’re not there for a club experience, but instead to share a pint with a few friends.

In these shows, the lighting often gets mixed in with the décor and remodeling section, but there is almost always an overhaul of the restaurant lighting. It’s easy to underestimate the degree to which our settings matter at a restaurant, the assumption is that if the food is good then that itself is enough to carry the restaurant. However if the light that’s cast is dark in the bad way and makes the place look dirty and dingy then it’s likely that people will feel the food is inferior. Vintners, or professional wine tasters to those not familiar with their self selected title, can be fooled into thinking that cheap wine is better than expensive wine by switching the bottles. Our minds play a great role in how we process flavors and smells. Having the restaurant set the right atmosphere with its décor and intelligent decisions about restaurant lighting is important.

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