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Practical advice on commercial lighting from LED retrofts to lighting design

3 pitfalls to avoid in restaurant lighting

Posted by Brandon Melton on


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Whether you manage a fast food restaurant or a high-end steakhouse, it’s imperative to have the right lighting. You want your customers to feel comfortable in your space and you want the food they order to look attractive when it makes it to the table.  

We frequently receive questions from restaurant professionals regarding how they can save energy with lighting in their spaces. With those in mind, we put together a list of common problems restaurants face when it comes to lighting.

1. The more the better? Not so in restaurant settings

Everyone knows that one attractive element of LEDs stems from the ability to get more output using less energy. In a retail environment, those advantages are great. That’s not always the case for restaurants, however.

In fact, the mass switch to LEDs has almost become a kind of epidemic in the restaurant world. With dining, more lighting is not better. When switching to LEDs, you think you may be doing a great thing by saving energy but often you’re inadvertently increasing your light levels and making it uncomfortable for guests. If you have dimmers you’re forced to dim them down further than normal to compensate for the increased light and most LEDs do not typically dim well at low levels. If you don’t have dimmers to help control the levels you are likely over lighting your space.

An example of this issue is if you have a PAR30 halogen lamp, you’d typically replace it with an “equal” LED PAR30. However, the perceived brightness of an LED PAR30 is often so much higher that you could easily step down to a less expensive PAR20 LED and maintain the desired effect.

2. Beware of unintended consequences from 'inexpensive, efficient lighting'

Building off the point above, avoid lighting that improves energy efficiency but decreases the quality of the light that is so integral to food presentation. Food is as much about the presentation as it is the taste. If the true colors of the food are not represented well, it doesn’t look appetizing and your customers aren't likely to enjoy their experience at your restaurant.

Food has to look good in the light you choose. After all, humans eat with their eyes first, right?

Additionally, many lamp types have such poor light quality it may actually make menus more difficult to read. Don’t lose sight of the quality of light just to save in energy efficiency. 

3. Most LEDs dim differently than halogens, which can change the restaurant atmosphere

Until recently, LEDs did not dim with the same warm tones as traditional incandescent or halogen lighting. Most LEDs only have one color tone as they dim, unlike incandescent sources which actually change in color as they dim.

A halogen lamp starts at roughly 3,000 degrees of Kelvin temperature, and as you dim it, the color temperature gets warmer and warmer as the Kelvin temperature dips to about 2,000 degrees. This warm tone is what creates that cozy, intimate ambiance in many restaurants.

What is color temperature? Let us explain.

Most anticipate that when you dim an LED, it will mimic that same warming effect, but that hasn't been possible until recently. Most LEDs will produce less light as you dim them, but the color of the light will stay the same. Because of that, many restaurants are disappointed in the result and often conclude that LEDs are terrible -- too “white or blue” for use in their setting.

Restaurants typically want warm and inviting light. So be careful with LEDs that don’t warm with dimming.

Restaurant lighting product recommendations

But you do need to use the right product. The issues discussed above are reoccurring, common pitfalls for restaurants. But they can all be avoided if you’re equipped with the right information.

To achieve the best atmosphere, while achieving energy efficiency, you need good color quality and the right level of warmth for your lighting. As a start, we recommend these three products:

  1. Philips Warm Glow BR Lamps – Address many needs; easily dimmable, warm atmosphere effect, good color quality, and LED efficiency.
  2. Soraa MR16’s – Great quality LED light in a small commonly used form factor that accurately render a broad spectrum of color.
  3. Ketra tunable lamps – The highest quality color of LED light, completely tunable for perfectly true color rendering ability.

Whether you manage a fine dining, fast casual, or a quick service restaurant, you can achieve your desired ambiance, present your food well, and save energy and money. It just comes down to knowing what combination of light sources to use and which ones to avoid before you begin your project.

All restaurant segments must be aware of these common pitfalls and the solutions available to avoid them.

Read more: 'Restaurant lighting: The blurred lines between fine dining and fast casual'

A guide to choosing color temperature