The Basics Of Restaurant Atmosphere

A restaurant’s atmosphere is frequently overlooked over other elements. However, it is very important for restaurant owners to pay just as close attention to their dining room’s ambiance as they do to the service they are providing and the food they are serving. Generally speaking, there are three main characteristics of restaurants that diners tend to notice the most whenever they are eating there for the very first time: atmosphere, service, and cuisine. Some customers might prioritize one of those factors over the other two, but any three of them can determine whether or not most guests will go back to the restaurant for a second visit.  

The goal of any restaurant, no matter what its target customer or concept happens to be, is to provide diners with an experience that will make them want to return again and again. A loyal and strong customer base helps to keep a restaurant earning enough revenue to stay and business and continue to thrive. Creating an outstanding restaurant atmosphere is an aspect that is frequently overlooked but is necessary in order to provide diners with a memorable experience that will make them want to come back for more. 

What Is Restaurant Atmosphere?

Although some concrete elements of a guest’s restaurant experience can be named that are part of the ambiance, realistically speaking, the atmosphere of a restaurant is a fairly abstract concept. It is a feeling that a restaurant exudes, and when it is done right, it can significantly enhance a meal’s entire experience.

Any aspect of a restaurant that influences how guests experience dining can contribute either negatively or positively towards the restaurant’s atmosphere and ambiance. It includes how the food is presented by the chef, the way servers are dressed, music, furnishings, and decor. 

The fact that there are so many different factors that make up the atmosphere of a restaurant is what makes it so hard to control. Even one factor being out of line with all of the others can affect the success of a restaurant. 

Why Is Restaurant Atmosphere So Important?

One key factor is that the foodservice industry is among the most highly competitive markets around. Therefore, your restaurant’s target audience most likely has many other options that are available to them. The amount of competition within the foodservice industry is much higher than in many other industries. It ultimately comes down to whether or not consumers make their decisions about dining based on concept and atmosphere alone.

Can Having a Bad Atmosphere in Your Restaurant Be a Deal Breaker for Customers?

Ohio State University researchers conducted a study that showed that almost twenty-five percent of restaurants do not survive beyond their first year. Although there are many plausible reasons for that, it is possible that the statistics may be partly attributed to a restaurant having a poor atmosphere and also simply because it is quite difficult to manage a restaurant. There is research that supports the claim that guests value a good restaurant atmosphere. A study was conducted by Coyle Hospitality Group that used data from almost 2,500 guests regarding the atmosphere of an establishment. The results of the study were divided into three groups that were based on a meal’s average price: upscale, luxury, and casual.

Diners at each of the restaurant levels were asked how much specific factors influenced how likely they were to recommend a restaurant to their peers and friends. The factors that were studied included food, timing (service), atmosphere, and staff attitude. Diners at every level, unsurprisingly, reported that the most important factor was food when deciding whether or not to recommend a specific restaurant. However, the atmosphere of a restaurant was also a major consideration in the luxury and upscale dining categories. 

These results demonstrate that the atmosphere is valued by diners, and to the point that a negative atmosphere makes them less likely to recommend a restaurant, no matter how positive their experience was of the service, staff, and food. 

How To Create a Good Atmosphere for Your Restaurant 

Each restaurant is different. Therefore, there is no exact recipe for creating a good atmosphere that is available to give your guests a positive and strong impression of your restaurant. However, there are certain factors that guests are likely to notice that can contribute to the atmosphere of a restaurant.

Adhering to a Concept 

The very foundation of the atmosphere of a restaurant starts to be planned just as soon as a concept is chosen by a restaurant. This concept should be taken into consideration in all decisions that can potentially shape the atmosphere of your restaurant. For example, the concept of a classic diner should give the feeling of a diner that is expected by guests: Plenty of stainless steel, pastel colors, plenty of tile, and a bar countertop, booths, and barstools for furnishings. 

At times, the concept doesn’t need to have a specific atmosphere in order for it to have an authentic feeling. For example, there are really no precedents for a modern steakhouse. Customers don’t have preconceived ideas about how this kind of restaurant is supposed to feel and look. With this type of place, there is no exact blueprint for how to create a good atmosphere but it is still important. 

Furnishings and Decor 

Guests are more likely to have a positive response when the decorative accents, furniture, paint colors, and wall decorations all are part of a single cohesive theme. The key is consistency to create a design for your restaurant that contributes to providing a memorable restaurant atmosphere for your guests. 


The lighting of a restaurant has a significant effect on its ambiance. A majority of casual and fast-food restaurants use bright, cold fluorescent lights since guests don’t’ really take into account the atmosphere very much. However, in sit-down restaurants, warm, comfortable lighting is much more appealing and inviting to diners. 

Generally speaking, cold, harsh lighting isn’t conducive to providing a good experience for guests since it contributes in a negative way to the atmosphere of your restaurant. 


When considering the atmosphere of a restaurant, cleanliness might not be the first thing that people tend to think of. However, it is actually one of the most critical elements. No matter what the target audience or concept is, nobody wants to dine in place with sticky surfaces, trash, dirty tables or other signs that indicate they may be eating in a place that isn’t as clean as it should be.  


If you decide to play music, it should contribute to providing your guests with a positive dining experience. For example, although fast-food and fast-casual restaurants can get away with practically any kind of music, for an upscale dining restaurant, heavy metal music played at a loud volume would not be a perfect choice.  

The volume level of the music also contributes to either a bad or a good restaurant atmosphere. If music is played too loud, guests have to try to talk over the loud music. That increases the crowd noise which does not make a positive contribution to the overall atmosphere and dining experience for your guests. 


Although the service that your restaurant staff provides is very important, in terms of atmosphere the way your staff dresses and the attitude that they convey is also important to consider when it comes to your restaurant’s atmosphere. For example, if you have a sit-down or upscale restaurant, you wouldn’t want your servers to be dressed in t-shirts and jeans. 


How your food is presented is also important. Comfort food and soul food restaurants enhance the experience and atmosphere by piling food up high on the plates. By contrast, upscale, modern restaurants meticulously arrange food items on plates. It is very important for restaurants to understand the marketing power that meals have when guests are enthusiastic about photography and share their meals with others. 


the kind of POS system that a restaurant uses affects its atmosphere. It has been shown that iPad-based newer POS systems provide faster restaurant service. However, depending on what type of aesthetic you are attempting to give, this type of system can also enhance a modern concept of a restaurant’s atmosphere.

Key Take-Aways 

Although most diners might say it isn’t true, the bottom line is that most people visit restaurants for more than strictly the food. Having a good atmosphere, or a great view – such as bayside brunch for example, can help to ensure that¬† guests have positive feelings from interacting with the establishment.¬†