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When customers eat at your restaurant, you want them to enjoy delicious food and have a great time. The ambiance plays a big part in their experience — it’s the first thing a guest notices when they walk through the door. The emotional impact is so powerful, in fact, that it sets the tone for the entire meal.

Looking for ways to improve your business? Start by cultivating a restaurant ambiance that’s appropriate for your dining concept and target audience. By setting the right mood, you can delight your customers and keep them coming back for more.

What is restaurant ambiance?

Restaurant ambiance is the atmosphere and overall vibe of your business. No one thing creates it; rather, it’s the cumulative effect of elements that include lighting, music, layout, and decor.

Next to the food, ambiance is one of the most important aspects of your restaurant business — it can make or break a customer’s meal. The right mood enhances the food and leaves diners with a positive impression. Likewise, the wrong ambiance can feel strange, distracting, or grating, making it hard for guests to focus on a fantastic dish made with local ingredients or an excellent wine list.

A carefully curated ambiance is so powerful, in fact, that it can give your business a competitive advantage in the restaurant industry. After all, customers are often looking for a specific mood when selecting a place to eat. If they’re going out with a group of friends, they might prefer lively tunes, warm lights, and trendy decor; for a date, they might want a romantic atmosphere. When your ambiance fits the bill, it can encourage diners to choose your establishment over a competitor.

This advantage extends to general-interest guests, too. Imagine that customers are choosing between your restaurant and another with equally delicious menu items. If your business has a better overall vibe, you’ll probably get more business, regardless of the occasion.

Styles of ambiance: how to achieve the restaurant atmosphere you desire

As you design the perfect restaurant ambiance, it’s important to consider your customers’ preferences. What are they looking for in a meal? Are they coming in pairs or groups? Do they visit your restaurant for special occasions or weekday dinners?

With that information in mind, consider what type of ambiance will best meet their needs:

  • Romantic. A romantic ambiance is designed to help customers relax and focus on each other; it often features dim, flattering lighting, comfortable seats, and soft music. Layout is critical — tables and chairs should position diners close together so they can have an intimate conversation without raising their voices. Leave plenty of space between dining tables, or use physical dividers to create a sense of privacy.
  • Casual. A casual ambiance encourages guests to come as they are. Lights should be bright but not harsh, and the music should be loud enough to create a fun but relaxing atmosphere. In a casual space, chairs are usually spread out to encourage guests to make themselves comfortable.
  • Trendy. Trendy restaurants often cater to a young, hip clientele with updated music, statement-making decor, and striking colors. The service style matters, too; servers who are friendly, informal, and knowledgeable can put guests at ease. A trendy ambiance often uses higher-volume music and smaller spaces between tables to enhance the lively atmosphere.
  • Fine dining. In this type of atmosphere, quality is key. Each element, including the paintings on the walls, the material of the tablecloths, and the type of wine glasses, should be upscale but not showy. In general, fine dining restaurants tend to have soft-focus lighting and quiet music; classical tunes are a popular choice. When it comes to color, opt for soft shades that allow the food to take center stage.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for ambiance design; the best restaurants create their own formulas for success. Use these elements to give your business a unique vibe:

  • Interior design. The layout, furniture, and materials you choose are the foundation of restaurant ambiance. Consider an Art Deco bar serving classic cocktails — it might use gold metal accents, jewel-tone velvet seating, and mirrored surfaces to evoke an upscale, Jazz-Age feeling. A casual seafood restaurant, on the other hand, is more likely to use weathered wood panels, porthole windows, and whitewashed wood chairs to establish a low-key, down-to-earth vibe.
  • Lighting. Lighting has a powerful influence on customers’ moods and emotions. Natural light feels fresh and energetic, which is ideal if you’re serving breakfast or lunch. After the sun goes down, softer lights tend to be more inviting and easier on the eyes. Want a cozy or romantic ambiance? Dim the lights and add a few candles. You can see the impact of lighting in fast vs. casual dining; fast-food joints often use bright lights to prompt faster table turnover.
  • Music. Your playlist automatically signals the type of restaurant you’re running. A trendy weekend brunch spot might have a live DJ spinning tracks, while a family restaurant is more likely to play top-40 background music that appeals to a wide variety of people.
  • Color scheme. Colors tend to elicit specific emotions, so it’s important to choose them carefully. Red is a stimulating color that makes guests hungry and energetic, so they order large meals and leave quickly — it’s no wonder this shade is often used in fast food restaurants. According to the London Image Institute, green feels healing and fresh, blue communicates peace and trust, and black indicates formality and sophistication.
  • Decor. Your decor choices help customers understand the vibe of the restaurant at a glance. Bold, striking modern art can indicate an adventurous or unexpected menu; lighthearted, kitschy decor allows guests to relax and have fun. Your decor choices should support your desired ambiance and complement your restaurant brand.
  • Acoustics. Acoustics are closely connected to interior design and decor — the materials and layout you choose can affect the noise level in the space. In general, softer materials tend to absorb sound and create a quieter environment. You can also use acoustic panels to reduce background noise.
  • Fragrance. Scent is one of the most underrated aspects of restaurant ambiance. Since fragrances can interfere with taste, most dining rooms are unscented. However, you can use subtle scents in the reception area, coat check, and bathrooms to make the spaces feel more elevated and elegant.
  • Cleanliness. Cleanliness is crucial to ambiance; if customers see uncleared tables and crumbs on the carpet, it’s hard to enjoy the beautiful decor or sweeping views. As a restaurant owner, you can help by training staff to clean frequently during their shifts.

With so many factors to consider, creating the perfect ambiance takes time. When in doubt, try introducing elements slowly to see how they impact customers. You might experiment with varied playlists at lunch and dinner, for example, or see how different table arrangements affect the vibe. Over time, you’ll develop an ambiance that feels uniquely suited to the character and style of your restaurant.

Set the mood with Grubhub

A great customer experience is critical to your restaurant’s long-term success. Good food is the most important factor, of course, but ambiance is a close second. The perfect restaurant atmosphere takes every meal to the next level and encourages repeat business.

Ambiance isn’t just for people who are dining in — it also affects customers who are picking up takeout orders. To make this dining experience even better, use Grubhub to streamline the ordering process. Ready to test it out? Try Grubhub free for 30 days.