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The Bright Ideas Blog

Design inspiration and outdoor lighting tips and advice for homeowners

How to Create Elegant Outdoor Restaurant Lighting

So you’re dining outdoors on a restaurant patio, and you can’t wait for your Spanish pork with apple-citrus salsa to arrive. Here it is! Wait. Is that it?

You shouldn’t have to squint to make sure.

I dine out a lot, both here at home and all across the country. And, naturally, I always notice a restaurant’s outdoor lighting.

Often, it could use a lot of work.


Too many restaurant owners don’t pay nearly as much attention to their outdoor lighting as they do to their indoor lighting. And that’s a big mistake.

Lighting plays a huge part in the overall feel of a dining experience. Atmosphere is as important as the food and the service, whether you’re enjoying a $10 casual burger or a $100 Porterhouse steak dinner for two.

Often, these carefully prepared restaurant meals are enjoyed outside, on patios and dining decks.

Don’t assume fresh air and good food alone will impress your customers enough to bring them back.

It’s all about ambiance. And that happens with expert lighting.

Stand Out From The Crowd

First things first — restaurants need to attract diners. First impressions are crucial. Outdoor lighting plays a huge part here.

How’s your curb appeal?

Expert landscape lighting will make you stand out from the other restaurants on the block. Do you have unique architecture? Play it up with lighting.

What does your restaurant’s exterior say about you? Does it look trendy? High-end? Or is it so dimly lit diners might not even find you?

Architectural wash lighting highlights your restaurant’s best features and gives the whole place a high-end look. Signage that’s lit with technical artistry and sophistication — not just floodlights — tells customers if it looks this good outside, it’s worth going inside.

Light The Way

Path lighting outdoor restaurantCustomers cover a lot of territory before they even sit down and order their first beverage.

Think about the path they take. From the parking lot, walkways to the restaurant, their path to the outdoor dining area and then back inside to the restrooms.

All of these areas need to be well lit to avoid trip hazards. The thing is, you don’t want your customers to see the fixtures — just the light. Fixtures and wires all need to be expertly concealed. And you don’t want this lighting to be just utilitarian. You want it to be beautiful. And subtle.

Path lights can be nestled into landscaping. Overhead lighting can be expertly installed in trees or on roof soffits. Decorative lighting bollards can light pathways and patios while casting stunning shadow patterns on the pavement — lighting as art.

Once you’ve drawn customers in with sophisticated, artistic lighting, you want them to return.

That brings us to ambiance.

Bring On The Layers

The best outdoor dining lighting is done in layers. Each different type of light creates a specific, targeted effect.

It starts with a soft, overall ambient lighting, maybe with recessed fixtures expertly hidden in the overhead beams of a patio cover or pergola. Customers know there’s just the right light — they look attractive and the mood is relaxed and fun. But they don’t see the fixtures, cords or wires. All of that has been expertly concealed, hidden in drilled-out beams and tucked out of sight.

Accent lighting and decorative fixtures add another layer of mood. Imagine a twinkling starlight fixture over your outdoor table. These fixtures feature pierced holes that provide a romantic, glittery atmosphere to the meal. Twinkly, like candlelight, they also offer enough light to read the menu.

Trendy strings of bistro lights add a festive party atmosphere. Or imagine the mood beneath hundreds of LED chandelier bulbs, strung together like a tent roof over your outdoor dining area.

Layers of light: an artistic blend of wattage, color temperatures and fixtures create a magical mood.

You And Your Food Look Fantastic

Everybody wants to look good when they’re dining out at a restaurant. Chances are, there’s somebody across the table looking at them.

The food needs to look great, too. After all, it’s the main reason your customers are here. Your chefs spend a lot of time and skill making the dishes that come out of the kitchen look fantastic.

Too often, the delicious creations from the kitchen fall flat once they’re bathed in blah restaurant lighting. Just take a picture and you’ll see what I mean.

Food has never been more photographed than it is today. Think Facebook and Instagram.

But effectively illuminating people and their food is tricky. And technical. It involves a delicate manipulation of the color temperature of the lamp. Warm light produces light high in the red, orange and yellow range of the light spectrum. This makes people and food look natural and vibrant.

Lamps that produce more blues — cool light — can make food look washed out or change its color. Expertise matters.

Highlighting Those Special Features

outdoor restaurant lightingThe best outdoor restaurant lighting will highlight the features that make your place special. That waterfall or fountain next to the outdoor patio. The sculpture diners pass on their way in. The garden beds that look beautiful during the day, but get lost in the dark at night.

A combination of uplighting, downlighting and moonlighting can beautifully accentuate your outdoor features and add automatic drama.

Is there a pretty stand of bamboo outside along the dining patio? Imagine how great it would look at night, dramatically back lit.

Everybody loves to dine under romantic moonlight. An expert lighting technique called “moonlighting” creates that soft romantic light even when the moon doesn’t cooperate. The lights are skillfully installed high above the dining area. The diners don’t see the fixtures. They only know everything looks and feels just right.

Sitting walls and benches outside look welcoming and artistic when undercap lighting casts a soft wash of light below. It provides extra safety, too.

The Beauty Of LED

These days, the pursuit of the perfect outdoor restaurant lighting means switching from traditional high-wattage incandescent lights to energy-saving LEDs.

LED technology has made huge advances in the past few years. When they first came on the scene, LEDs only offered cold, harsh light. They didn’t do beautifully prepared food — or the diners enjoying it — any favors.

Today, LED lighting produces warmer tones with much improved color. It’s flattering to both people and food. It can even offer the warm look of candlelight. Everybody looks a bit better in candlelight.

LED lighting is also good news for a restaurant’s bottom line. While LED lamps are more expensive to purchase up front, they dramatically reduce energy costs and last five to seven years each — compared to a few months for incandescent bulbs. Which means a lot less time standing on ladders or being hoisted up on lifts to replace bulbs.

Want A Change? It’s Automatic

Programmable dimming means a restaurant manager can decide to change the level of lighting outside as the evening wears on. Or even change lighting colors throughout the evening.

Want to spice up the atmosphere for late-night drinks on the patio? Change colors remotely, adding pink hues, electric blue or any of 10,000 colors you like.

You can control it all with digital and mobile app controls.

The Value Of Expertise

outdoor lighting for restaurants tableIt takes skill and experience to accomplish all this. The delicate balance of the right outdoor lighting involves beam spread, lumen output, Kelvin temperature.

Lighting experts know what your city’s codes are for commercial properties. And they know how to add sustainability with the latest LED technology.

The skilled lighting artisans at Landscape Lighting Pro of Utah can build a custom, creative low voltage outdoor lighting system for your restaurant that will last for years to come, using the latest in lighting technology and artistry.

We get into the details, because this is our business and our passion. We make sure all the lamps are load tested and balanced to assure proper voltage output. We use high quality brass and copper fixtures that are built to last. We use only heat shrink, ratcheted tight, watertight connectors to keep the lights running dependably. We offer a lifetime warranty. And when you need service, we’ll be there.

You know all this. Just like your customers will know they had the best meal they’ve had in ages, in the perfect atmosphere. And they’ll be back.

In Conclusion

A successful restaurant — whether it’s inexpensive casual or high-end fine dining — needs to provide a welcoming, safe, comfortable environment. The food has to not just taste good, but look good. Guests need to look good too, and feel good.

The right outdoor lighting is a crucial component.

We’ll show you how to light your commercial property to draw customers in and helps to bring them back.

Trust Us With Your Outdoor Restaurant Lighting

If you decide your restaurant needs skilled, artistic outdoor lighting, we'd love to hear from you. Give us a call at (801) 440-7647 to schedule a free consultation, or fill out our simple contact form.

Located in Sandy, Landscape Lighting Pro of Utah serves customers throughout Utah's residential areas, including Salt Lake City, Park City, Draper and Holladay. Our outdoor lighting portfolio includes projects from Salt Lake County and Utah County, to Davis County and Summit County - and beyond.

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