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Bad lighting can leave customers in the dark

August 21, 2011
By ANITA HANABURGH , For The Leader Herald

Wife: "Darling, don't you just love the candlelight in here?"

Husband: "Yes, dear. I just put that forkful in my ear!"

I want to see what I eat. Seriously, the other night we were eating out and the neighboring table asked to borrow the candle on our table so that they could read the menu. My cousin carries a little flashlight on her keys.

"Is this to see the keyhole?" I asked.

"No," she said. "It is to read menus."

My friend, Cindy, said she always "scans" a dining room to make sure she gets the table that has the best light.

It is true that age (shudder) might be the reason why some customers need more light while eating or reading at the table. Most of us with aging eyes expect this and usually are prepared with reading glasses. Some restaurants even have reading glasses available a nice touch. Few of us, however, carry flashlights.

Many restaurants are just too dark with or without glasses. There is a lighting problem in a restaurant if the menu can't be comfortably read with the corrected eye. There is a problem if customers are often burning the menu because they are placing it too close to the candle in order to read it.

Too much light can be a bad thing, too. Bright light that is not filtered with curtains or shades can affect customers' vision and enjoyment of their meal. If the customer keeps on the sunglasses while eating, it might be a clue to order window shades.

That being said, let's think about the lighting in a restaurant. Lighting is a mood creator. It can accent or show off all the efforts that have been put forth by the restaurant. A fast food restaurant might choose bright lighting to cheer up the customer and advertise their food or they might choose a warmer lighting to "tone down" the stark image of fast food. A fine dining restaurant might choose lights those dim or indirect lights to produce a unique ambiance.

Lighting creates atmosphere. It can make an old or shabby dining room look "warm." It can make a contemporary restaurant look clean and sleek. It can open a dark corner or calm a bright one. Good lighting can even make the waiter appear more handsome! Lighting can enhance the plate and color the food to look more appetizing.

Always, natural light is best. Noting the sun, the dining room planner should situate tables to make the most of the incoming light, to warm the room and also to save on power. Window tables are always the most popular as natural light is comforting.

Many restaurants do not have the luxury of natural light for their entire tables. Take a restaurant on a busy downtown block. The only natural light might be at the entrance. A restaurant might choose to create natural light. At a Korean restaurant in New York City, we sat next to a light wall. This was parchment-like paper covering a whole wall that had lights or light bulbs behind it. Beautiful.

Today, the lighting choices are endless chandeliers, pendants, sconces, table lamps, vanity lights or candles. All add light to the needed area. To read normally in an unlit room requires about 100-foot-candles of light. One-foot-candle of light is the amount of light that a birthday cake candle generates one foot away from the source. That means at one foot from the lamp, you should receive 100 birthday candles of light.

Speaking of candles, one should choose candles that last long. Tapered candles are not as popular as globe candles for a restaurant because of safety. Candles should only be lit when it is dark and should always be lit if a customer is at that table. It is important the candle has no scent or odor that can interfere with the great taste of the food.

When I worked at the Coach House in Saratoga, we would "test' the light after a customer complaint. We would sit at the table when it was dark and try to read the menu. We actually added miniature lamps in place of the candles so the customer was more comfortable. We changed the blue writing on the beige menu to black. If you want customers to see your menu, black letters on white or cream is always best.

I suppose dim lights can save electricity and hide the dust on the tables, but the only good argument I can think of for poor lighting is it does reduce facial wrinkles.

Restaurant Watch: Check out the lighting in your favorite restaurant.




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