Opinion: Marius Zürcher on acoustics and lighting in restaurants

Regular blogger, Marius Zürcher explores how to improve two elements that combine to enhance a restaurant's atmosphere

In my last article, I wrote about the importance of music to a restaurant’s atmosphere, which in turn is an essential ingredient of its success. Given the importance of a restaurant’s atmosphere, as well as the many pitfalls associated with this somewhat abstract concept, I have decided to dwell on it a little longer.

In this month’s article I therefore address two other, arguably more overlooked, elements of a restaurant’s atmosphere and how to approach them.


Let’s face it: a lot of restaurants have bad acoustics. This is a problem, as research results from 2015[1] show that noise is second only behind bad service on the list of complaints from restaurant guests. Noise levels can actively effect guests’ spending habits, taste perceptions and more. Bad acoustics are not only bothersome, but can, over time, also actively harm guests as well as employees. Bad acoustics therefore are a major liability. Properly addressing it is key.

One of the reasons why bad acoustics seem to be so common is due to more recent interior design trends in the restaurant industry. Carpets, tablecloths, curtains – and thus sound absorption – made way for wooden floors, plain tables, open kitchens and large, uncovered windows. Although this is in line with changing (visual) design sensibilities of many guests, it also turned restaurants into literal echo chambers.

The solution is therefore to make acoustics and essential element of the design process.

This does not mean one has to fall back on tablecloths, thick carpets and heavy curtains (though I personally think there is still room for those). There is a wide variety of modern solutions – from modern sound absorbing fabrics and (building) materials, to sound absorbing art, acoustical panels and the strategic use of alcoves and (sound) barriers – that can lead to substantial improvements.


Lighting can be tricky. Subsequently, many restaurants get it wrong. Much like a restaurant’s acoustics and music, lighting too can influence the behavior of guests. Bright lighting can increase guest turnover – making it attractive to quick-service restaurants – but can also overstimulate guests. Dark lighting, at its best, encourages guests to linger and order more, but it can also easily crossover into being so dark to the extent that it is annoying (and borderline dangerous) to both guests and staff members.

When looking to find the right balance between bright and dark, restaurants shouldn’t just rely on light fixtures, but also keep in mind the effect that different materials as well as colors (of both materials and the light itself) can have on the lighting. Similarly, instead of making extensive use of artificial light, restaurants should make use of as much daylight as possible, if only to play their part in the fight against climate change.

However restaurants decide to tackle the challenge of finding a balance between bright and dark, finding said balance is crucial. As Le Corbusier, the iconic Swiss-French architect, put it: “Light creates ambience and feel of a place, as well as the expression of a structure.”

Marius Zürcher

About the author:

The co-owner & founder of start-up 1520 in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, Marius Zürcher was a participant at FCSI’s ‘Millennials’ focused roundtable at INTERGASTRA 2018.


[1] https://www.zagat.com/b/the-state-of-american-dining-in-2015

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