Emma Banks on how good lighting can boost your business
Hilton’s VP of F&B strategy and development EMEA shares her wisdom
I am very fortunate to have met and listened to some restaurant industry titans speak during my career and earlier this year, prior to the global impact of COVID-19, I attended GRIF (Global Restaurant Investment Forum) in Amsterdam where I heard Jeremy King OBE of Corbin and King being interviewed. Although needing no introduction, Jeremy owned and operated restaurants such as Le Caprice, J Sheekey, The Ivy before selling to Caprice Holdings and then went on to operate The Wolseley, The Delaunay and Soutine amongst many. The final question of the interview, and please bear in mind this was an investment conference, was “What in your opinion Jeremy is the most important element of a successful restaurant concept apart from the food?” I leaned forward in my chair second-guessing, location, investment levels, rent, the team and as my mind raced, I heard the word “lighting”. If I could admire and respect him any more as a true industry great it was at that moment, when all the years of relentlessly discussing the need for lighting designers and why we should not overvalue engineer the lighting or even the desperate pleas of let’s invest in a dimmer, came flooding back, to coin an apt expression.
So really, why should we invest in lighting and what are the technical and physical benefits?
As we look forward to a period of recovery within the industry, we know our customers are going to be even more demanding around all aspects of their restaurant experience from hygiene and cleanliness, authenticity, provenance, service styles, and yes, design will become even more critical. Good lighting design can elevate an average design and bad lighting can destroy the aesthetics and ambience of the most beautiful spaces.
In simple terms lighting is the key driver of setting the scene, changing the physical space and evolving it through the day parts from breakfast through to dinner and late-night drinks. Lighting transitions the guest experience from morning to night and should entwine with the music and restaurant scents to deliver a curated and atmospheric experience depending on the type of operation and concept being delivered.
Some of the key hot spots and areas to consider when discussing lighting with your designers and contractors and one of the biggest challenges to get right is the all-day restaurant or the chameleon concept that must deliver breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and drinks. These concepts rely on high levels of lighting at breakfast to wash the space with brightness and wake guests up for the day ahead. Bright light makes the space feel open and airy whilst in the evening dimmer lighting draws the space in and creates shadows in the correct curated spaces within the design. The key here is to not just have one dimmer but multiple circuits so that the operator achieves a bright space in the day but later rather than a single uniform dim, individual circuits can be completely switched off to achieve the selected dimness, mood and effect with shadows and highlights in all the correct places. It is also vital that the lighting is correctly programmed to deliver the correct effect and levels throughout the day into night and adjusted for seasons to mimic the daylight hours and darkness externally.
Designers will always talk to the warmth of the colours of the lighting scheme. A bright white will make food such as red meat look very unappetising whereas a warmer white will wash it with a gentler glow and thus make the product look more sumptuous. Steakhouses will often use warmer colours to accentuate their produce and it is believed that cooler colours will make seafood and produce look more fresh and appealing, although venturing too far into the spectrum of blue needs to be exercised with caution as it is believed that it can suppress appetite due to the colour’s relative absence in natural foods. Designers will often avoid overuse of coloured lighting in restaurants and recommend a splash here and there for the desired impact but to not overdo it as it may cheapen a scheme or distract from the overall scheme.
Decorative lighting can add impact and a real wow to a scheme and draw the eye in to a particular feature but cannot be relied upon solely to light up a space as it creates a uniform wash everywhere and does not create tight spots of lighting that you may want as a highlight in specific locations. This is where the curated scheme of different lighting, zones and circuits comes into play to deliver the overall desired effect and scheme.
Lighting is often considered an extra expense but, it can make or break the design, atmosphere and experience you are wanting to achieve and deliver within your restaurant, lounge or bar. The correct lighting scheme highlights chefs in a show kitchen to the diners whilst retaining the mood lighting in the dining space. Lighting accentuates a beautifully designed back bar and the correct lighting in external spaces creates the magical experience of al fresco dining. It is considered that the combination of the correct lighting and music tempo can also encourage dwell time and a guest’s willingness to spend.
F&B spaces within hotels must wear many hats and for that they require the correct lighting schemes and set ups to achieve this aim. As margins and investment become tighter it is important to remember to budget and balance your costs to support the end product with the final wash of colour and mood that you want to achieve. It is also important to consider energy usage and utilise the correct technology as advised by the lighting specialist but without destroying the look and feel.
Bull & Bear, Waldorf Astoria DIFC
So apart from elevating the design, transforming a space through the day, creating that all important atmosphere and making the food and drink look stunning, why is your lighting scheme so important? Love it or hate it, your customers are dining not only with their eyes but a piece of hardware that they will photograph and share your space and product to the big wide world. The correct lighting scheme will make your guests photos, and thus your concept look even more stunning and Instagrammable and add value to the guest experience as we are, after all, ultimately in an economy of sharing where elevated online experiences are the new collectable luxury!
Go on, help your restaurant concepts find their light!
Based at Hilton’s regional office in Dubai Emma Banks is the vice president of F&B strategy and development across EMEA, supporting Hilton’s trading and future pipeline of hotels.