Creating an Atmosphere for a Successful Restaurant

Though great food is important to the success of your restaurant, it isn't quite enough to bring customers back again and again.  As most restaurateurs know, the experience your customer has is just as important, if not more important, than the food itself.  Human beings are visceral creatures.  We take in information with our five senses and make judgments about our surroundings.  It's human nature.  The job of your restaurant is to create surroundings that make customers feel happy, invited and even excited to be there.  It means creating a unique environment to capture a crowd that will keep coming back and spending money.


Restaurant Themes

Most successful restaurants and restaurant chains create a theme behind their dishes, an environment outside the ordinary for people to escape the mundane.  If Mexican food is your thing, the theme could be a coastal beach cantina or a trek through beautiful Aztec art or maybe just a taste of everyday Mexican culture.  The goal is to transform your restaurant from just another ordinary building into another world.  Your theme should be saturated in everything, from the names of the dishes to whatever the curtains are made of.  It defines what music is played in the background, what colors the walls are painted, what the curtains are made out of-- the list could go on forever.  At the end of the day, people want to feel like they've traveled somewhere, escaped to another world to experience something new.  So how does a restaurant owner pick the right theme?  According to restaurant expert Laurie Mealey, it's all about the demographic of the area. She gives many tips, all with the overarching theme of location, location, location. Overall, start by finding out the demographic and income of your location. Then, pull from your surroundings. Is there a sports complex near by? Maybe do a fast casual sports bar. College campus? Make sure your theme stands out as unique and fun. If you don't study your location, you are opening up your restaurant blind folded and hoping for the best.

Music and ambient noise

Whether you own a sports bar that airs the latest Pay-Per-View fight of the century or a hip cafe for local college kids, the sounds that fill the air of your establishment define a great deal about it.  Dr. Neel Burton points out, in his article from Psychology Today, “There are several possible functions [for music in a restaurant]: in particular, to accompany and enhance the food; to create ambience and atmosphere; to influence menu choices; and, by making people eat faster, to increase table turnover.”  He suggests that fine dining restaurants should play discrete, instrumental music to accompany and enhance the meal, while high-volume establishments often play music with faster tempos to subconsciously speed up people's chewing.  Choosing the right music and ambient noise sets the mood of your restaurant in a powerful way.  Not to mention, it drowns out the sound of other table's conversation and gives a hint of privacy to your customers' experience.

Color, Light, and Little Details

Appetite suppressants are pale green, blue and purple.

It's important to pay attention to details, no matter how minute they seem.  Details like lighting and color set the ambiance for the customer.  Low-lit tables are often found at upscale establishments and are meant for a close romantic connection, while warm color combinations produce a psychological effect that makes people hungrier (most famously used in the McDonalds golden arches).  This effect has been noted by top authorities in the world of culinary business, such as Stephen Zagor, Dean of Business and Management Studies at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, who stated in a recent article from Westchester Magazine, “Warm colors are stimulants... Appetite suppressants are pale green, blue and purple.”  He continues, “Lighting-- how it hits the walls, the tables, the floor-- is the most important design element.” Some restaurants are even taking social media into account- creating a lighting that photographs well for all of the food critics and stylists out there. These choices can easily be overlooked, but are considered some of the most important factors in the master plan of a successful business.

The point is that when people go to restaurants, they are looking for more than just someone else to cook their food.  They are looking for an experience.  Give that to them, and they will give you their hard-earned money.


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Writer Bio: Jared Rigsby is a writer and graphic designer with a BA in Writing/Literature from Middle Tennessee State University.  A longtime freelancer, he is published monthly through Dish Magazine ( and develops logos and websites through