There is no single, straightforward answer to the question of “what kind of lighting should I choose for my restaurant, bar or café?”.

This is because it all depends on a number of different factors that are particular to the venue in question: customer demographic, interior décor, size, location, social function, budget…the list goes on. In spite of their importance, all of these variables (yes, all of them) must be carefully considered to ensure that the lighting scheme selected for the interior of a restaurant adds value – aesthetically, atmospherically, practically and commercially.

So, whilst there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution, there is a lighting system which will perform best for you and your restaurant. Luckily, the LED experts at Unibox are on hand to help make achieving this easier. Using their experience and insights, they have developed a list of the three most important things to consider when selecting the interior lighting for eateries of all shapes and sizes.

By using these tips when liaising with designers and contractors, you’ll be confident that you’re choosing the best light fittings and fixtures for your restaurant, bar or café.


1. Lighting type.

Lighting features are generally split into three main groups – ambient, task and accent. Lights within these categories have very different functions, and often need to be used in conjunction with one another in order to achieve the desired ambience.

But what are the differences between ambient, task and accent lights? And, from a practical perspective, how should they be installed?

Ambient lighting.

Ambient lighting, also referred to as general lighting, is the primary source of light within a room. Its purpose is to provide a comfortable, practical level of illumination that allows us to use a space for its intended function and also to build certain type of ambience.

The goal when installing an ambient lighting system is to achieve a solid baseline – a homogenous distribution of light that can then be enhanced with additional fixtures and fittings such as floor lamps, pendants and desk lamps.

Common forms of ambient lighting are downlights, track lights and, more recently, LED ceiling lightboxes as they can all be installed easily and discretely into the ceiling or a room whilst still supplying a wide beam span.

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Task lighting.

As the name suggests, task lighting makes it possible for people to carry out certain tasks within a space. Whether it’s reading, cooking, sewing or shaving, task lights are an essential feature of any room if it is to be user-friendly.

Installing task lighting is an effective way of providing localised illumination for individuals in key areas without impacting on the overall light levels experienced by others in the room. It ensures that an interior’s lighting is both adequate and safe without demanding that the ambient light levels are compromised.

Common task lights are desk lamps, mirror lights, guidance lights and under-shelf lights.

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Accent lighting.

Accent lights bring extra drama and depth into a room by drawing attention to specific areas, objects or features. They are an excellent way of highlighting the most impressive aspects of a space by encouraging our gaze in that direction.

They are used in both commercial and residential environments for a wide variety of reasons such as supporting product promotions, celebrating works of art or recognising the importance of cherished family heirlooms.

Accent lights can take many forms, from singular spotlights through to long strips of LED tape. The important thing to remember is that accent lights need to be directional so that they can illuminate a very specific area or object. Ultimately, the goal of accent lighting is to showcase something in particular, not to meet the general lighting requirements of an entire space.

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2. Brightness.

The light level within a restaurant is one of the most important things to take into consideration. This is because the brightness of a space is unavoidably linked (albeit in our subconscious) to our perception of its relative level of luxury.

Imagine this. You’re in an expensive, high-end restaurant that offers food, drinks and service…the calibre of which is unbeatable. You’re dining with your partner, celebrating your anniversary, and the you are both hoping to have experience which is full of romance and intimacy. Now, imagine that the lighting in this restaurant is incredibly bright…so bright, in fact, that it makes you feel as if you’re sitting under a spotlight and being watched by everyone else in the room. The atmosphere is all but ruined.

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In this type of restaurant or bar, a system with lower light levels would be much more suitable. Technically speaking, the lights used would have a lower lumen rating. What are lumens? Lumens are the measure of the amount of visible light that it emitted from a light source – the higher the lumen output, the brighter a lamp will appear!

Research shows that dimmer, less bright lights (those with a lower lumen output) encourage us to feel that a space is cosier and that the products or services being offered are of a high quality. Furthermore, surveys conducted by npower revealed that the appropriateness of a restaurant’s lighting is a factor used by 71% of British diners to help them decide on a venue for a date.

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Conversely, bright lighting (those with a higher lumen output) makes a space feel more energized. It is (generally) associated with fast food outlets and other ‘grab and go’ eateries in which people want quick, straightforward service and an affordable menu.

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Other things to consider when specifying brightness levels:

  • What meal is being served? – for breakfast, customers require higher light levels that are aligned with their circadian rhythms whereas at dinner, they want a more leisurely atmosphere.
  • How much natural light (sunlight) does the restaurant receive? – any artificial lighting system should enhance the natural light that is already present within a space.
  • What will the interiors décor be like? – brightly coloured or glossy walls can reflect the light emitted by a lamp resulting in unwanted glare.


3. Integrated safety.

In commercial environments, safety is paramount. Measures have to be put in place to ensure that customers are protected from fire risks, slip hazards, broken glass and more. What’s sometimes overlooked, though, is that interior lighting forms an integral part of these responsibilities. Why? Well, beyond making it difficult for people to read the menu, lighting that isn’t bright enough increases the danger of guests tripping or slipping when moving around the restaurant.

To achieve the right balance between safety and atmosphere, ambient lighting can be cleverly optimised by the installation of specialist diffusers that are designed to soften the appearance of a light and make it more subdued. Additionally, accent lights and track lights can be used strategically throughout a restaurant’s interior to draw attention to specific areas such as staircases and busy thoroughfares.

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Emergency lighting is another crucial consideration for restauranteurs if they are to respect all of their legal obligations as proprietors of a commercial space. Emergency lights are those which come on automatically in the event of a power outage so that guests are able to make a safe, swift exit. Interior Designers often express grievances towards emergency lighting, as it can require the installation of an additional system which compromises the overall aesthetic they have envisaged.

Recognising this, the LED Engineers and Designers at Unibox have developed methods of integrating emergency lighting discretely into the primary lighting system. This enables Designers and their clients to realise their creative vision and achieve the desired atmosphere for the interior of their restaurant, bar or café!

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If you would like to learn more about Unibox’s commercial lighting capabilities, design expertise and industry experience then why not contact a member of our team today?

Call us on 0161 655 2100, send an email to [email protected] or send us you contact detials by clicking here.