How to Choose the Best Color for a Restaurant

what is the best color for a restaurant?
What is the best color for a restaurant?. Der_Typ_von_Nebenan via Pixabay

Do colors matter when it comes to restaurant designs? Do certain colors really make people hungry or do the reverse and curb appetites? The evidence says yes, colors do influence the way people eat (or don’t eat). Because of this, choosing the right colors for a new restaurant is important, especially when you consider that colors used in a restaurant are an extension of a restaurant’s brand. So, which colors are best for restaurants and which should be avoided?

Along with colors, the use of textures, lighting and other elements are important considerations for creating an inviting atmosphere for customers.

The Best Restaurant Colors

Warm colors, including reds, yellows and oranges have the most impact on increasing a person’s appetite. Red especially is noted for creating a rich and luxurious environment for diners and increasing impulse eating (why yes, I will have an appetizer and a glass of wine). But it’s important to keep in mind that not all shades of red, orange or yellow are created equal. Muted, earth tones are best for restaurants. Think terracotta orange, tuscan yellow and deep garnet red. Stay away from really bright, vibrant shades for your main color. Yellow, especially, can be very irritating if it is too bright or used too much throughout a dining room. Of course, if your goal is to have a high turn-over rate, such as a fast food establishment, using a brighter shade of any of these colors can subconsciously hurry customers along.

Yellows and oranges can add cheer to a restaurant’s decor. This is perfect for a cafe, yogurt shop or other type of concept that is light hearted and inexpensive. Again, be careful to select the right shades of yellow or orange (think squash and pumpkins) and don’t over use.

Green is another popular color for restaurants.

As with the warm colors, muted, earth tone shades of green are best. In a restaurant, green walls and accents denotes health and nature and can convey the perception that its menu is healthier than its competitors. Green shades also indicate sustainability—which is among the hottest restaurant trends at the moment. Green pairs well with brown and orange for fresh, light color scheme—perfect for a sandwich shop or vegetarian based bakery. Conversely, green doesn't work well for meat-based restaurant concepts, like Longhorns or Outback Steakhouse. Nor does green work well in bars. A fresh natural green can turn swampy and sad looking in dim lighting, with patrons huddled around their beers.

The Worst Restaurant Colors

Along with bright yellow, other colors that don’t work well for restaurants are blue and purple. Blue is actually the most liked color in the United States and promotes a calming atmosphere, but it does not translate well to most restaurant concepts. This is in part because there is not a lot of natural blue foods. Most blue foods are kids foods that have been artificially dyed—think popsicles, blue yogurt, or cotton candy. None of which appeals to most adults. The same is true of purple, which has actually shown to decrease appetites.

Blue and purple could serve as accent colors, but should be used sparingly.

Neutral Colors

Black, white, beige, gray and brown are all excellent colors to incorporate into a restaurant’s decor. They offer a perfect background that lets the stand out. Black and dark browns, when used as an accent, denotes sophistication—making it ideal for a fine dining restaurant. White denotes cleanliness and uniformity. When paired with a bright accent color It is perfect for quick service restaurants—think Five Guys Burger, White Castle, both of which use a predominantly white and sterile background with added pops of primary colors. Beige, gray and brown are ideal for creating a warm environment that allows the food and service to pop. 

Textures and Elements

Along with colors, adding texture to your restaurant’s decor will help create a welcoming ambiance for customers.

Think soft gray walls, paired with polished dark wood furniture and glass sconces or earthy browns paired with copper metal table tops and green velvet chairs.

Water and fire are two other elements that can make a restaurant dining room stand out. This is why many restaurants have fish tanks or other gas fireplace decor. Both add visual interest to the space. Both add movement and create a distinct feel in a distinct feel within a restaurant dining room. 

There are always exceptions to everything, including restaurant colors. One of the most recognizable and successful restaurants in London breaks a whole bunch of color rules. Sketch is a compilation of different dining rooms and bars, run by restaurateur Mourad Mazous. Each dining area has a very specific look and feel, the most notable being the Gallery. A large dining room outfitted in a delicate baby pink velvet, the Gallery is strikingly feminine in appearance and belies the haute cuisine menu. Other dining areas within sketch utilize bright yellows, pinks and purple color schemes. According to all the rules of restaurant color design, none of these color pairings are good options for a dining room. But as I mentioned, there is an exception to every rule. 

When selecting colors for a restaurant, think about it’s concept and customer experience. Do you want customers to come in for a leisurely dinner and stay for coffee and dessert? Or do you want them have quick bite and be on their way? Just as people have personalities, so do restaurants. A white, tiled restaurant interior has a very different personality than a dimly lit, terracotta interior. The final choice for a restaurant colors can also be affected by the size of the dining room. Cooler, light colors can help expand small spaces, while warmer colors help create intimacy in larger spaces.

Finally, be wary of selecting any color combination that is too trendy and hip at the moment. You don't want your new restaurant to look outdated before its time. Nor do you want to have to repaint walls and rebrand menus and signage only a few years into business. If you are unsure about which colors represent your restaurant brand best, it is worth the investment to work with an interior designer who specializes in restaurants. They can put together sample designs for you to choose, taking out all the guess work. 

A restaurant's color isn't just an arbitrary choice. It should be chosen with thoughtful deliberation, since it will lay the foundation of the entire marketing and branding for a restaurant. It’s important to consider how you want your guests to feel while eating at your establishment. Even if your favorite color is turquoise blue, that is not a color that traditionally works well for a restaurant dining room. It's equally important to think about the kind of restaurant concept you are working with and the kind of ambiance you want to create for customers. Bright, vibrant colors work well for fast casual and quick service restaurants, while earth tones and neutrals create a leisurely feel, perfect for upscale dining. While there are alway exceptions to the rule about restaurant colors, knowing the basics can help  your new restaurant establish a strong brand right from opening day.