Back to Notes
Hospitality Lighting Design – The Basics

There is no shadow of a doubt that light has the power to define a space. And when it comes to hospitality, there’s even more reason strive for perfection. Light creates ambiance, it can make or break an atmosphere, it allows guests to emotionally connect with the space and it can compel them to linger longer. All of this can lead to a greater spend per head and hopefully a loyal customer base – a result that every hospitality venue is looking for.

When creating a lighting scheme for a bar, restaurant, cafe or hotel, there are several factors that designers should consider in order to elevate a space: balancing levels of brightness, directionality, the right colour temperature of light, as well as a flexible lighting scheme. So, what exactly can we do to ensure our lighting concepts create a venue that stands out?

Tip 1 – Balancing light levels 

A slight paradox, but artificial light should be used in conjunction with daylight to balance the changing light levels. Throughout the day the space should feel permeable, relatively high levels of artificial light are required within internal spaces in order to counteract the natural light outside and draw the eye through the area. 

Lighting Design Solution Vibrant Interior Rattan Pendant Lights Integrated Illumination Salero Bahrain Spanish Restaurant The Westin Hotel Studio N

Fast-food restaurants should look to maintain high levels of light throughout the day and well into the evening to minimise dwell time and encourage customer turnover.

Higher-end restaurants with a greater spend per head, however, will be looking to increase dwell time and encourage diners to stay longer. To do so, lower light levels with higher contrast work best, as they create a sense of intimacy.

How many times have you been to a restaurant or bar and found yourself captivated by the mood and your surroundings, not wanting to change location? This is most likely because the lighting is low, soft, warm – you just can’t face leaving the comfort of the space you’re in for the harsh outside world. This is by design. Someone has given real thought to the contrast of light levels, how they contribute to your experience and elicit a feeling contentment.

Tip 2 – Direction of light

The direction in which light is cast is critical. Luminaires should be indirectly positioned so that they don’t cause glare. Candlelight is an excellent way to reduce brightness and keep light directionality low.

You may also want to consider the compression of the space. Are you looking to generate the sense of a large, airy room, or create a cosy, intimate setting? Decompressing a room creates a lofty, spacious feel, so either diffused light fixtures or uplighting that draws the eye upwards should be used. To compress a room, you need to draw the eye downwards. Illumination should be cast below the eyeline and on surfaces such as bars and tables.

You also need to think about the interplay of light with the surfaces and textures of the room. Light can bounce off interiors, set the tone, highlight stand-out features, and create drama. Positioning and directionality of light fittings is critical if you are wanting to maximise impact or, on the other hand, subtly and softly interact with interior features. All of this helps diners connect with their environment and ultimately appreciate the space they’re in.

Tip 3 – Colour temperature and tonality

If you haven’t guessed by now, we’re looking for the quality of light to create a sense of intimacy. Careful attention needs to be paid to the colour temperature of any light source. Ideally, you’re looking to achieve a golden or warm-white tone as this also makes food look richer and more appetising – after all, we eat with the eyes!

But one size, or colour temperature in this case, doesn’t fit all – meat and fish often look more appealing under a cooler colour temperature light source, highlighting the importance of choosing the relevant light source for each individual space.

We can also do some interesting things with contrasting tonality. You can use a warm light source to illuminate tables and then contrast this with a cooler or bluer light source at the perimeter of the room, to make a cool or even warm light look and feel even warmer.

Tip 4 – Flexibility 

Cafe Lighting Casual Colourful Interior Dropped Circular Slatted Ceiling Linear Lights Designer Studio N

As hotel and restaurant spaces are now more multifunctional than ever, design schemes need to be fully flexible to fit the needs of ever-changing spaces. Breakfast areas transform into casual workspaces, which then go on to be places to eat lunch as well as dinner. As a result, different moods and ambiances need to be created within the same space throughout the day.

Lighting and lighting controls play a key role in achieving this functional transition, lighting may need to dim over the course of the day, furniture might have to be repositioned and so light direction altered.

As lighting designers, we need to consider a versatile lighting scheme, one that can be easily manipulated, with moveable fixtures and adjustable levels of light.

Share this note
Join our mailing list