How to Create An Unforgettable Atmosphere in Your Restaurant

Posted on April 8, 2020 by Carm McCormick

How to Create An Unforgettable Atmosphere in Your Restaurant

Posted on April 8, 2020 by Carm McCormick

Whether it’s your third restaurant or your fiftieth, creating an atmosphere unforgettable atmosphere in your restaurant is crucial in ensuring its success. But how do you create an atmosphere that so many customers come to love?

Too often, the atmosphere of a restaurant is overlooked in favour of other elements, like cuisine. But the goal of any restaurant – just like retailers – is to create an unforgettable atmosphere in your restaurant, giving customers an experience that not only keeps them coming back but makes them feel it’s worth going out of their way to visit. When you create a memorable atmosphere in your restaurant, you do more than just foster customer loyalty – you set your business apart from countless other restaurants, and for business owners looking to scale, your restaurant needs to stand out. 

Traditionally, the quality of food has been enough to keep customers coming back, but with the increase in consumer demand for experience above virtually all else, restaurants can no longer afford to rely solely on their menus for success.  

So, how do you achieve the right atmosphere? 

What is restaurant atmosphere?

When it comes to restaurant atmosphere, it’s more of an abstract concept than it is a tangible thing, but the concept behind restaurant atmosphere revolves around the way your restaurant experience makes people feel – and those feelings can seriously impact your ability to scale your restaurant. 

That means that any aspect of your restaurant that will impact the way customers feel will contribute either negatively or positively to the atmosphere of your space. Whether it’s the design and layout of your restaurant or the customer service, seating, fixtures, shelving, displays, lighting and more, every element and even the smallest details will have a bearing on how successful and unforgettable your atmosphere is.   

Why is restaurant atmosphere so important?

It’s no secret that the restaurant and food industry is extremely competitive and your customers have access to a range of different restaurant options, so keeping customers coming back to yours is a constant competition. 

There will always be customers who make decisions on where to dine based on food alone, but other segments of customers will look for good food and a good experience, which means your restaurant’s atmosphere has to offer up both.

You may also find that competitors are proactively adapting to the demands of customers both in terms of cuisine (like offering more vegan menu options) to how the entire experience comes together (like how food is delivered to the table, how food is ordered, how customers are greeted, what seating is like, and more). If you fail to adapt, you’re giving customers the incentive to find that experience and atmosphere elsewhere. 

How can you create an atmosphere worth coming back to?

Start with your concept 

The design concept behind your restaurant has to reflect what your restaurant is about, and the type of experience it will offer your customers. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you have to have a plan in place for your restaurant design before you move into outfitting your space or updating an existing one. 

A diner, for example, would be designed as a diner and not, say, a high-end steakhouse – that’s because customers expect a specific type of experience when dining at restaurants like a diner versus a five-star bistro. Having a design plan for your restaurant will help you not only stick to a realistic timeline but ensure you’re set up for success when it comes to creating an unforgettable atmosphere for your customers. 

Keeping your retail atmosphere consistent will also help ensure your customers feel secure in the type of experience they can expect and how they’ll feel each time they visit your restaurant. 

Your concept includes every element of your restaurant design, including any retail element – like a dedicated shop section where customers can buy merchandise inspired by your restaurant, all without having to leave your restaurant. Let’s take a deeper dive into those design elements that will help create a memorable atmosphere.


Lighting has a huge impact on the ambiance of a restaurant. But the lighting you use will differ based on your desired atmosphere. 

For example, fast-food restaurants typically use bright fluorescent lighting to match the quick grab-and-go atmosphere these styles of restaurants are known for. There’s rarely any mood lighting or intricate lighting fixtures or displays, as fast-food restaurants don’t display products or services that need to be highlighted or have their own dedicated display. 

Bistros and high-end restaurants, however, usually use lighting that is bright in some sections of the restaurant and subtle in others, such as certain seating sections that may be more intimate with subdued mood lighting, or bar areas where spotlighting might be used above the bar so customers can see their cocktails being made. 

The key is to use lighting and lighting fixtures in a way that reflects your concept and desired atmosphere. If you want to showcase restaurant merch in glass displays or for purchase, you might use brighter lighting over displays but low-lighting design throughout the rest of your space.

Decor and furniture

Just light lighting, the decor and furniture you use throughout your restaurant can either positively or negatively impact your customers’ dining experience. Seating and tables that are uncomfortable or difficult to get in and out of (such as booths) can be bothersome and annoying for customers, and they won’t come back as repeat customers if they feel uncomfortable while dining. 

Any other decor elements, like wall decor, paintings, and furniture used at bars or in waiting areas can all contribute to the dining experience, as well. So it’s important that the style and functionality of seating and dining tables you use are not only welcoming but fit cohesively with the rest of your furniture and decor. 

But don’t forget about paint colours as a key component of this; they also contribute to the ambiance and feel of your restaurant environment and can throw customers off if they don’t compliment the design and decor of your space. 

Customer service

No matter how well designed and executed your restaurant space is, poor customer service will kill any positive atmosphere in your restaurant and contribute to negative customer experience. 

Beyond properly training your staff and ensuring they’re knowledgeable about the menu, beverages and layout of your restaurant, how they present themselves can also impact the atmosphere; if you’re a high-end bistro, chances are that having staff wear wrinkled shirts and open-toed shoes to work would not only be unsafe and but also confuse customers as to the quality of service. 

Staff uniforms can be made to fit the theme and atmosphere you are aiming for. Jeans and t-shirts will work well for a diner, but that look is not going to create the atmosphere you want in a luxury dining setting. 


Regardless of your restaurant’s design and professional team, a lack of cleanliness is not just a turn off for your customers but can and will post health hazards. With both of those elements at play, customers will quickly get the impression that your restaurant lacks atmosphere and a standard of quality. You might not think that cleanliness is part of the atmosphere, but a clean and well looked after restaurant gives a positive impression and sets the tone for the rest of the dining experience. 

But cleanliness isn’t just about sanitary working and dining conditions; from the way your staff presents themselves to the state of your parking lot, front interior and exterior and more, keeping your restaurant space clean and tidy gives customers the confidence that they’re dining in a quality restaurant, even if you’re not a five-star steakhouse!

Temperature control

Have you ever been to a restaurant where you feel a bitter chill while eating your meal, or you feel like you can’t breathe because it’s so warm where you’re sitting? If you’ve experienced this, then just like countless other customers, you’ve probably felt like your dining experience was less than enjoyable. 

Interestingly, temperature can play a large role in the atmosphere you create for your restaurant. When customers feel physically uncomfortable in your space and it impacts how enjoyable their entire experience is, they won’t return – and they may not recommend your restaurant to friends and family, regardless of whether the food and service are impeccable. 

Using a temperature control system can help you better monitor the temperature in your restaurant to ensure you’re not smoking customers out, or freezing them out, either!


Music is one of the most obvious yet overlooked elements of a restaurant’s atmosphere. When music is too loud, customers can’t have conversations, can’t hear your service staff, and will struggle to communicate orders to your wait staff. It’s also a turn off when customers feel music is so loud that they can’t enjoy their meals or their experience in a restaurant. 

The same can be said of the type of music you use. Depending on the concept behind your restaurant, and any specific design theme you follow, certain music will work better for your desired atmosphere than others. You should take into consideration how you want your customers to feel in the space, and whether your music preferences will make them happy, sad, angry, or annoyed!

Using technology

Whether or not you use technology in your restaurant to optimize the ordering and preparation process comes down to whether tech is appropriate for your restaurant concept. If you’re aiming to create a fun, flexible and casual dining experience, having customer service staff use tablets to take orders, submit them to the kitchen, and process transactions for payment would work. But in an upscale restaurant setting, customers may expect wait staff to use the traditional pencil and paper pad to take orders, with billfolds for delivering bills and receipts to tables. Other restaurant concepts, like Korean BBQ restaurants, may even let customers process their own orders using on-table screens or tablets. 

While technology can help optimize your operations, it should depend entirely on your atmosphere and whether it works for the atmosphere you want your customers to step into. 


It takes skill, expertise, and quality to create a restaurant environment that amplifies not just what’s on the plate, but how your customers feel. Every restaurant is built on three key things: food, customer service, and atmosphere. For our clients, we understand how important scalability is — the ability to consistently and efficiently roll out locations one after the next, without compromising on atmosphere and experience. As you expand and grow your business, you have the opportunity to design and build an atmosphere that represents everything you and your food stands for, everything that makes your brand unique — be that style, comfort, or your passion for an amazing experience. Contact us today to discover how we can help you create an unforgettable atmosphere in your restaurant. 

What’s the future of retail?

Malls, as we know them, are changing. And many are changing not only to serve customers but to serve retailers, now and into the future. As the way we shop continues to change and evolve, retailers and malls have to find unique ways to adapt to consumer needs. Many malls across Canada are reinventing themselves not just for the short-term needs of consumers, but for long-term demand, thinking ahead for the future of retail.

Explore the future of retail for both malls and retailers alike in our white paper, “Reinvention: The Saviour of Canadian Malls?”.