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the psychology of restaurant design

The Psychology of Restaurant Design

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Great food and great service are likely to be the two most important things you consider when deciding what makes a successful restaurant. However, there’s a lot more at play when it comes to the overall restaurant experience, notably the environment.

Interior design contributes a huge amount to a positive dining experience. From the colour of the walls to the tables and chairs, there are many factors at play that affect your customer’s perception of your venue, and different design elements can even influence how much someone eats and how much they’re willing to pay.

But what is the psychology behind restaurant design and what are the choices that designers make to enhance a diner’s experience?


Sight is the first sense we use to gather information about an environment and then make judgements about it. Colour is an important tool for influencing customer behaviour and restaurant designers break the colour wheel down into three distinct sections when it comes to appetite: strong stimulants, mild stimulants and suppressants. These are broken down further as follows:

Strong stimulants

Red: increases heart rate and blood pressure, and is associated with excitement

Orange: increases mental activity and feelings of comfort

Yellow: increases feelings of positivity and happiness

Mild stimulants

Green: creates feelings of abundance and association with a healthy diet

Turquoise: associated with feelings of being happy and carefree

Blue: increases feelings of calm and induces sleep


Purple: associated with less popular types of food, such as aubergine and cabbage

Brown: associated with burnt or overdone food

Black: causes the appetite to diminish

Grey: repels people from the thought of food

Using red, orange or yellow in an interior design scheme increases a customer’s positive association with an establishment. Studies have shown that these colours increase heart rate and this in turn produces feelings of activity and excitement. Red is a colour that is abundant in nature and, in hunter-gatherer times, bright reds would have signalled sugary, energy dense fruit or vegetables.

Yellow is strongly associated with feelings of happiness and joy, which is a feeling that restaurants should be aiming to inspire in their clientele. As well as red, orange and yellow, it’s worth considering green as an element of restaurant design. This is especially true if the venue has a focus on healthy food, perhaps vegetarian or vegan, as geen signals edible, non-poisonous plants to the hunter-gatherer part of our brains, and therefore is associated with good health.


While sight is the fastest of our senses when it comes to collecting information about an environment, smell is the most primal. Our sense of smell is very closely linked to memory, and scents can instantly evoke strong and distinct feelings within us. If you’ve ever walked past a bakery that has a smell of freshly baked bread wafting from it, you’ll know how tempting it is to go in and buy something.

The right smells can create a very positive association within us and change our behaviour. According to a study called ‘Elevating the Customer Experience: The Impact of Sensory Marketing’, 81% of consumers globally say they have been positively impacted by in-store scents, and one in three say they are likely to stay longer in a nicely scented business. A badly scented business can cause big problems: Starbucks at one stage was forced to stop serving hot sandwiches when the smell of burnt cheese began overwhelming the smell of coffee, which required changes in heating, ventilation and the way the food was cooked until they could be sold again.

This demonstrates the importance of considering scent when designing a kitchen. A good example of a way to allow your clientele to smell food being prepared and enhance their appetites is to have an open kitchen. If you aren’t able to do that due to limitations within your building, you can introduce manufactured scents into your dining area to evoke feelings in your customers. For example, the smell of fresh bread creates a homely and comforting feeling, lavender increases feelings of relaxation and citrus makes people feel alert and refreshed.


Interior designers work with three layers of lighting, which are divided according to their purpose:

  • Ambient lighting is the general illumination of an environment. This includes the natural lighting from windows, as well as artificial lighting. Fixtures that provide ambient lighting include ceiling fixtures such as chandeliers, track lighting, recessed ceiling lights and wall sconces.
  • Task lighting describes lighting that helps customers perform tasks, for example reading a menu and being able to see what they’re eating. These may be spotlights, lamps, pendant lights or directed track lights.
  • Accent lighting is more decorative than functional and serves to illuminate and draw attention to specific areas and objects. Bars, pictures, sculptures and wall friezes are typically lit in this way.

Good lighting really helps create a distinctive ambience in a space. Warm, low-intensity lighting creates an intimate, relaxed and leisurely atmosphere which is suitable for an upscale restaurant, whereas bright lights work better at a fast food restaurant where lingering isn’t encouraged. Lighting can even influence the types of food that customers order. A study titled ‘Shining Light on Atmospherics: How Ambient Light Influences Food Choices’ found that consumers were more likely to choose less healthy food options when lighting is dim, whereas environments with bright ambient lighting are more likely to nudge customers towards healthy choices.

Sound and Acoustics

The acoustics of a restaurant can be very hard to balance: too loud and your diners won’t be able to hear each other’s conversation, too quiet and they’ll feel uneasy that the other customers can hear everything they say. However, it seems that a loud environment is likely to annoy more than a quiet one. A survey by Consumer Reports found that excessive noise caused most complaints within restaurants, followed by poor service, problematic food prep and a dirty environment.

As well as just having the volume up too loud, excessive noise can also be exacerbated or even caused by one or a combination of the following sources:

  • ● Crowded space with customers packed too tightly together
  • ● Too many hard surfaces that amplify and bounce sound around
  • ● Badly designed speaker placement
  • ● Poorly designed architecture that creates bad acoustics

There are various ways in which good acoustics can be created through thoughtful interior design. For example, soft furnishings such as padded chairs, cushions, carpet, curtains and high quality table linen absorb sound and stop echoes. Booths can be used to mute noise from other tables and create a sensation of being alone. High ceilings and porous acoustic plaster can dampen noise levels, and sturdy walls and doors can stop sound from leaking in from outside or neighbouring buildings. If you’re concerned about a restaurant being too quiet, play unobtrusive music that will fill any gaps in conversation and help to relax your diners.

Food and service are only two small parts of the puzzle when it comes to creating a restaurant that people love visiting. At Mobius Works we design restaurant interiors that are not only beautiful and cost effective but will encourage your customers to return time and again.

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