Since the beginning of the pandemic, the restaurant industry has suffered the most losses, both in terms of sales and jobs. During the first 12 months alone, total sales were down $270 billion and over 8 million jobs were lost.
As restaurants continue to recover and resume operations, most operators believe it will take them several months to return to pre-pandemic conditions.
For this reason, it’s incredibly important for restaurant operators to reassess their strategies and adopt innovative tactics to enhance the dining experience, boost traffic, sales, and profitability.
Besides food quality, the restaurant atmosphere plays a very important role when it comes to providing a great dining experience. This article discusses a number of ways to enhance the restaurant atmosphere to help your business thrive.
Let’s dive in.
The restaurant atmosphere: What it is and why it’s important
Broadly speaking, the restaurant atmosphere encompasses everything from tangible elements like your decor and lighting to experiential factors such as the quality of service and the conveniences you offer.
Your restaurant’s atmosphere is vital to its success. A pleasurable experience keeps diners coming back, while a lackluster one can send people packing.
A study by Coyle Hospitality that surveyed almost 2,500 consumers worldwide found that atmosphere is one of the top factors that prompt diners to recommend a restaurant to others. On the other hand, a noisy restaurant crammed full of tables and chairs in every inch of available space, creates a poor dining experience and drives negative comments.
All this to say that it’s extremely important to create a restaurant atmosphere that feels inviting and reinforces your brand in the best possible ways.
How to create an inviting restaurant atmosphere
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s take a look at some of the best practices for creating an excellent restaurant environment. Here are some useful tips along with a few examples of restaurants that have done an exceptional job in creating a look and feel that makes the dining experience truly extraordinary.
1. Optimize the available space
Planning your seating layout should be the first step towards creating a memorable atmosphere. While you want to make the most use of the available space, you must avoid placing any tables next to kitchen doors or under harsh lights.
You should also make sure that seats aren’t crammed together and that there is enough space between tables. It’s a good idea to separate small tables meant for couples or individuals from large tables meant for groups or families (as the noise might overwhelm individuals or couples looking for privacy).
Take a cue from Hotel June in West Los Angeles and its perfectly optimized restaurant space.
While an open kitchen may offer better space utilization, it’s best to avoid it unless you have some dramatically-interesting cooking techniques to showcase to customers.
2. Stick to an overall concept or theme
Selecting one concept or theme can be extremely beneficial in conveying and reinforcing your brand. Before you decide on a theme, think about the audience you want to primarily cater to and the cuisine you offer.
For example, if the cuisine you serve is specific to a country or region, you might want to use artwork, furniture, or decor that reflects it. Notice how this Burmese restaurant has cleverly woven elements from Myanmar into its overall theme and design. Not only does it look unique, it also reinforces the restaurant’s brand story and personality.
The tastes, preferences, and interests of your target audience can also help you come up with a concept that’s likely to resonate with them. For example, do you want your restaurant to be a romantic spot for couples, a trendy destination for singles, or a comfortable neighborhood hangout? Your theme or concept will help you choose the right design elements and stay on brand.
See to it that your furniture, fixtures, fabrics, and textures adhere to your theme and complement each other. When choosing your furniture, make sure that they’re stylish but comfortable. You also need to choose materials that are durable and easy enough to clean. Finally, feel free to add a touch of opulence with plush fabrics, leather, or natural stones.
3. Make an impact with music and lighting
Lighting and music are some of the best ways to set the mood of your restaurant. Ideally, your lighting needs to be adjustable based on the time of day.
For example, natural lighting is best suited for breakfast or brunch as this Michigan-based restaurant demonstrates quite beautifully.
On the other hand, dim lighting creates a quieter, more intimate mood that’s better suited for dinner. If you want to set a romantic mood, consider using fairy lights or candles.
Similarly, your choice of music should adhere to your concept or theme. Calming, subdued music is a better choice for upscale dining while faster, upbeat music works best in more casual settings. Remember to match the volume of your music to the energy and mood of your customers.
4. Get creative with table settings and food presentation
In the age of Instagram, getting a little creative with your table settings and food presentation is a excellent way to build your brand and attract social media attention.
Most people love to photograph food at restaurants and share it on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. This gives you a chance to promote your brand and reach more people organically. You could even consider offering your customers some incentives (like a discount) when they post these photos on social media and tag your restaurant in them.
5. Create photo-ready space
Still on the topic of social media (particularly Instagram), find ways to create photo-ready moments in your restaurant.
“It’s all about the ‘gram,” says Clare Jones of Custom Neon. Think about your décor with photography in mind and try to create Instagram bait. Be bold, be bright, be cheeky and convey a message. If your ambience and décor can create ‘influencer envy’ — a shot that everyone wants — people will travel far and wide to your restaurant.”
Morning Lavender, a restaurant-slash-retail store in Orange County, CA applies this concept well. The space has a large flower wall that serves as an attractive backdrop for Instagram photos. Guests are constantly taking pictures in front of it and Morning Lavender shares those photos on its account.
6. Create a safe and healthy atmosphere
Cleanliness is something that customers expect by default when they enter any restaurant or eatery. Now more than ever, cleanliness and sanitization are extremely important — not only to ensure the safety of your employees and customers, but also to build a trustworthy reputation.
In fact, the Coyle Hospitality study found that while cleanliness may not contribute greatly to creating a positive customer experience, the lack of it can certainly have a negative impact. So, make sure that floors, surfaces, and bathrooms are cleaned and sanitized carefully at regular intervals.
Another important safety measure? Healthy air flow.
“Indoor air quality and ventilation design in restaurants, once an afterthought, have become a priority for restaurant owners and managers due to coronavirus,” says Tony Abate, VP and Chief Technical Officer at AtmosAir Solutions.
“Medical and science experts confirm that eating indoors for an hour or more can expose diners to the virus by airborne transmission. From a cough, a sneeze or even a conversation.”
According to Abate, restaurants can prevent airborne viruses using bi-polar ionization (BPI) technology. These devices “emit ions into the air that seek, attack and neutralize coronavirus,” says Abate.
Another option is using UV lighting devices. Some restaurants are equipping their point of sale stations with ultraviolet light that can disinfect surfaces and kill 99% of microorganisms. These systems can usually retrofit into your existing hardware, so you might not necessarily need to buy new equipment.
7. Embrace the power of technology
In the COVID era, restaurant operators need to be extra careful and make sure that customers feel safe and protected when they visit the location. Much of this can be accomplished using digital technology. Here are a few ideas that can help minimize interactions between restaurant staff and customers, thus ensuring their safety:
Digital ordering and touchless payments. Mobile and online ordering systems can enable customers to reserve tables, create orders, and make payments directly from their devices and apps. Analysis and reporting of such data at the backend can give you valuable insights into customer behavior. You can then use these insights to manage expectations and further enhance the customer experience.
Guest management. You can leverage digital POS systems to manage guests and wait-times more efficiently. These systems can help you notify guests when their tables are ready and also allow for placing orders as they wait.
Restaurant audits and inspections. To scale your restaurant concept, it is important to establish brand standards and to validate those standards are met everywhere. If issues are found, apply corrective action. The right workflow will set your restaurant brand for success.
Bonus Point 8. Make sure your washrooms are clean!
How do you reconcile the family-friendly message of your restaurant brand with the bacterial experiment taking place in your washrooms?
Dirty washrooms are a problem everywhere but especially in food service. Read how dirty washrooms can ruin a restaurant brand.
The restaurant business is insanely competitive even in the best of times. As the industry slowly struggles to get back on its feet, remember that great-tasting dishes alone aren’t going to cut it.
You also need to create an impeccable atmosphere that appeals to multiple senses and even people’s emotions.
You can accomplish that by following the tips above, as well as by conducting regular audits to make sure that your brand strategy and daily operation procedures are being implemented properly.
OTHER food service and restaurant RESOURCES
Refer to the Food Service and Restaurants category for checklists, how-tos and best practices for food service and restaurants.
About the author:
Francesca Nicasio is retail expert, B2B content strategist, and LinkedIn TopVoice. She writes about trends, tips, and best practices that enable retailers to increase sales and serve customers better. She’s also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores.