Do you ever wonder why you love certain restaurants so much? You may simply think it’s the tasty food or the fast service. However, from the moment you enter a restaurant, you’re surrounded by a carefully curated environment and ambiance created intentionally by the venue.
The minute you sit down to order, you’re actually being instantaneously influenced by a variety of design choices. These design elements can impact your choices as a customer, from how much you’re willing to spend to what dish you decide to opt for.
It has been reported that there is expected to be a £6.6bn year-on-year growth for the restaurant industry, with the top 10 branded restaurants predicted to achieve sales of £3bn in 2022. Even in spite of the pandemic we, at Dojo, reported that pubs and bars saw a 37% increase in purchase intent from March 2020-2022. These figures only emphasise the increased spend of customers within the hospitality sector - highlighting the importance of ensuring your small business is effectively tapping into your customers senses and aligning the whole experience around their needs and expectations.
We also found that 1 in 3 of us seek out memorable experiences most of the time, and Brits are actually prepared to pay 28% extra when they find them. So, to help your small business enable customers to seek out these memorable experiences, we took a deep dive into the psychology of restaurants.
We looked at how colour, music, lighting, scent, furniture, layout, and menu design are used in order to psychologically entice customers to return and have the best possible experience in their restaurant. This in turn can drive sales and boost customer retention.
The top 10 colours used in the UK’s most popular restaurants
Most of the time, sight is the first means of collecting information. As soon as you step into a restaurant, you scan the venue taking it all in. As a business, at-a-glance aesthetics should be one of the key things you remember when designing your restaurant.
We looked into the top 20 restaurants, by visitor figures, in the UK to determine which colours were used most frequently.
We found that brown is the most common colour used in the top 20 restaurants in the UK, with the shade being used over 14 times. Brown wooden furnishings create a modern and sleek aesthetic that’s also warm and inviting, so it is no wonder they are so favourable amongst many restaurants.
When combined with hues of red and yellow, the tones create a stimulating environment for diners. The colours yellow and orange are known for making people feel hungry, where red is associated with passion, luxury and richness - combined they emphasise diners' impulse to indulge. This could persuade customers to order an appetiser as well as a main meal, or opt for another glass of wine.
The colour white is historically associated with cleanliness and is often used to brighten rooms but it can also be associated with plain, sterile environments like those in medical facilities. So, whilst it is necessary to emphasise cleanliness, it needs to be incorporated carefully to avoid creating a glaring sterile environment without any personality.
The colours used in the UK’s top 20 restaurants
Known for its delicious chicken, tasty sides and fast service, the most recent data available from Statista reports that Nando’s was the most visited restaurant in the UK in 2020, despite a year of lockdowns, it was clear there was still a craving for Nandos. When stepping into the restaurant customers are greeted with brown, green, cream, red and yellow tones, stimulating our senses and increasing our appetite.
Pizza Express was the second highest visited restaurant in 2020 with over 6,395,000 diners. White, black, blue, grey and cream are the colours used in the design of the chain of restaurants.
Pizza Hut saw over 5,801,000 diners in 2020 and ranks as the third most visited restaurant in the UK. Red, black, cream, brown and white are the colour tones most used in the design of the restaurants. Red in particular is a key colour in the Pizza Hut branding, so there is no wonder we are all hungry for pizza!
Sarah Macklin, successful interiors blogger and owner of dreamofhome.co.uk, commented:
“Loud colours can result in customers eating their meal faster, so restaurants that use bright colours and loud music tend to turn over more tables. Whereas eateries that use calming colours and relaxing music encourage the customers to take their time and soak up the atmosphere. This is why the colours you choose can have a big impact on the mood of your clients. Think about your brand and the kind of eatery you want to be and base your colours on this. Restaurants that want to offer a relaxing, luxury experience might avoid fluorescents in their decor, for example.”
What kind of music you should play in your restaurant
When we go to a restaurant, we want to feel relaxed whilst we enjoy our favourite food and the company we are with. The acoustic decisions you make for your restaurant are important factors that can contribute to the mood of diners and the kind of experience you want your guests to have.
The music played in a restaurant should fit the brand’s identity and ‘feel like the brand’. Selecting the right acoustic is just as important as choosing the right interiors and lighting because music can evoke certain emotions and is an integral part of how people perceive a brand. It isn’t just about creating a nice atmosphere, a study by Sountrack Your Brand and the HUI Institute, revealed that when restaurants played music that fit with their brand aesthetic and feel, sales actually increased.
Dessert restaurants saw the highest increase with a 15.6% increase in sales when playing relevant music compared to random music and burgers saw a 8.6% increase in sales. The difference in overall sales when playing music that matched the brand compared with playing randomly selected popular songs is 9.1%, emphasising the importance of taking the time to curate a playlist that is inline with the perception of the brand.
The study also highlighted that playing music that reflects the brand had a positive impact on sales, compared to playing a random list of music. Likewise, by incorporating well known songs with less popular songs that are all aligned with the personality of the brand, the study predicted that sales are likely to increase even more. In general, by playing music which is relevant to the business, customers are more likely to feel a range of positive emotions.
Melanie Fulker, Chief Customer Officer at Startle commented on why music is important in restaurants:
“We all know that music can change our moods. But its power is much larger than just that; it can change the way we move, how we behave, our perception of time, how we feel about a brand or how we spend our money.
So, for businesses music isn’t just a “nice-to-have” – it’s an important part of building the right customer experience. Just like the lighting, furnishings, service and other atmospherics, music will contribute to the perception of both an individual experience and the brand as a whole.
Choosing music based on its speeds can be a powerful tool for restaurant brands. But we must consider the context of the business and whether it suits the type of food they serve and the atmosphere they want to create. If the music and the environment is mismatched it can make diners feel stressed or rushed, meaning they won’t come back in a hurry.”
When asked about how much affects customer behaviour and purchase intent, Fulker added:
“Music is used by our brains as one of the many contextual cues which then influences how we behave, think and feel. And everything from the tempo, key, instrumentation and lyrics of a song can affect our actions.
That’s because our perception is quite imperfect and highly susceptible to influence. Our brains are hardwired to be as efficient (or lazy) as possible, meaning our instincts play a greater role in our day-to-day actions and decisions than you might think or care to admit.
For example, when investigating the effect of in-store ambience on wine sales, French and German music was played on alternating days. When French music was played, French wines outsold German wines 5:1. When German music was played, German wine outsold French wine by 2:1.
This example reveals how different stimuli, particularly music, can infiltrate our decision-making process and purchases. Background music isn’t a logical way to decide which wine to buy, but our ‘lazy’ brains will take just about anything as a reason to save time and reserve energy.”
How to use lighting to set the tone in your restaurant
Lighting can be used to help set the mood in a room, enticing diners to stay that little longer. The type of lighting you use, as well as the positioning of it, are a huge part of interior design and is considered one of the most crucial elements when designing a restaurant.
There are different types of lighting you can incorporate into your restaurant to set the tone and ambiance.
General illumination of an environment and the key lighting to set the mood. For example, low lighting can create an intimate atmosphere and is the best for settings where diners will be more likely to be closer to one another. Try using different coloured lightbulbs or simply dim the lights to change the tone of the room.
Accent lighting is used more for decoration than to be functional. It can be used to draw attention to a specific area, such as paintings, fountains and bars. Low lighting can create a relaxing atmosphere, meaning diners are likely to stay longer. A great way to incorporate this into your small business at a low cost is by using candles to set the tone. By simply putting a candle on each table you can create a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere.
This kind of lighting helps employees and customers carry out tasks, such as being able to set the table setting, read the menu and prepare food in the kitchen. If your restaurant is generally low lit, you may decide to use task lighting at the buffet or for illuminating walkways.
How you can use scent in your restaurant to create memorable moments
Scent may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of marketing your business. However, when a customer walks into your restaurant, as well as what they see and hear, what they smell is one of the first things they experience as they walk through the door.
The scent of your restaurant can influence a person's perspective of a room. For example, barbecue smoke can make a room feel smaller than it is. Cucumber and apple scents on the other hand, can make a room feel bigger and more airy.
As soon as your nose detects a smell, it triggers the olfactory neurons in the upper part of your nose, sending electrical impulses to a part of the brain called the olfactory bulb. The sense of smell is very closely linked to memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. Certain scents trigger the same response in most people. For example, vanilla and chamomile reduce stress and anxiety and lavender relaxes the brain.
Not only is the scent of your restaurant important for attracting and retaining customers, but it is also essential for creating a memorable customer experience. It is reported that the right smells can increase food sales by up to 300% and lengthen a customer's stay by 15%.
When considering the design of your restaurant, you may want to incorporate an open plan kitchen with no walls to allow the aromas from the cooking to hit the customers. This is similar to the design of Nando’s. Or, if you are working with a smaller budget, use scents within the dining area that complement the smell of the food. For example, if you are a steakhouse, go for more smoky and spicy scents.
How to use furniture, layout and utilise feng shui in your restaurant design
Furniture in restaurants is used to encourage different behaviours. The shape, size and comfort of furniture is important to think about to create the right atmosphere. Ensuring that your customers are comfortable is essential as it can have an impact on how long your diners will stay and how much money they will spend whilst they are there.
It is important to consider how long your customers will be in your restaurant for. If you’re serving a three course meal where guests can be expected to be seated for a while, then seats that are deep seated are the best option for comfort. It’s also important that every table in your restaurant should be considered a ‘good’ table no matter where they are seated.
When redesigning your restaurant you may want to consider your seating layout. This can be done with little or no costs. Think about where your customers spend the most time. Do they spend an hour having a pint with their friends? Or do they spend time seated with their family enjoying a meal?
The layout of your restaurant is something that is important to ensure customers have a positive experience. Customers need to be seen and they need to be able to see you easily to get your attention. Amenities such as toilets need to be easily found via signs as some customers may feel uncomfortable asking for directions to the restroom.
Depending on the atmosphere you are wanting to set within the venue, you may want to incorporate different features. For example, if you are wanting to create a romantic setting, you may want to bring in dividers between tables for privacy. A great way for small businesses to add a romantic touch to their restaurant is by adding flowers to the table. This is a cost effective way of incorporating a romantic feature within your restaurant space.
The ‘Feng Shui’ concept is derived from a poem that speaks about human life being connected to, and in flow, with the environment around it. There are five elements which contribute to the Chi’ energy, these include; fire, water, wood, metal, and earth.
A great restaurant design is said to incorporate Feng Shui. One of the key elements of Feng Shui is a ‘favourable position’, meaning that when you place a piece of furniture it is important to consider the positioning of it, in proportion to the room. This way of design has the potential to have an impact on the success of the business.
Businesses can transform the space of their venue by using the effective design of Feng Shui, this is often by incorporating lighting effectively to increase the fire energy. It is noted that yellow-based lighting can stimulate lighting in contrast to blue-based lighting.
How to design your restaurant’s menu effectively
Your restaurant's menu is one of the key ways to get customers through the door. You can entice them in with an effectively designed and well written menu to give an amazing first impression before they have even walked through the door.
Here are some hacks to keep in mind when designing your restaurant’s menu:
- Emphasise certain menu items
- Use colour to influence customer feelings
- Use photos sparingly
- Use descriptive language
- Make customers feel nostalgic for your old family favourites
‘Menu Engineering;’ is a technique used to help customers instantly know what they want without having to think about it or consider the cost of the dish. This is your opportunity to give customers a strong first impression, so take into consideration how your customers will read the menu to find what they are looking for.
One way you can use this technique in your small business is by having a meal deal option. For example, customers can grab a bacon roll and coffee as part of a deal. Ensure you make the deals and promotions clear in your menu.
A key design element of your restaurant’s menu is to include images of the food. This helps customers know what they are ordering and what to expect. However, the amount of photos depends on the type of restaurant. For example, a fast food or lunch time spot will typically have more photos than a high end restaurant.
Another menu tactic used by restaurants is to remove currency when displaying the prices. This can be a good thing to do as it makes customers forget they are dealing with cash and makes the items more appealing. However, it does depend on your customer base and the type of experience you’re providing.
You can read more about restaurant menu design here in Dojo’s blog.
The most Instagrammable restaurants in the UK
From flower ceilings to unique décor, we’ve trawled through one of the most popular social media apps in the UK to find the top 20 most Instagrammable spots in the UK.
One of the most notable trends over the past few years is the increase in the need of ‘Instagrammable’ locations. An ‘Instagrammable’ location is a place that people want to photograph, to post on social media. Restaurants have picked up on this trend and as a result have set out to become the most ‘Instagrammable’.
Circolo Popolare has been ranked as the most Instagrammable spot in the UK
The Sicilian inspired restaurant in the heart of London has over 211,000 searches for the restaurant per month on Instagram and is the perfect spot to break away from the hustle and bustle. The venue is adorned with foliage hanging across the ceilings, and the delicate light from streams of fairy lights help the room glisten.
Sketch in London is the second most Instagrammable location in the UK
The iconic venue has over 173,000 searches per month and it’s no wonder - in 2022 the restaurant was renovated bringing a new lease of life to the venue. The baby-pink marshmallow interior is no more as the new sunshine yellow interiors and 14 piece artwork installation create a new, fresh setting for diners.
14 Hills, London is the third most Instagrammable location in the UK
The restaurant has over 63,400 searches on Instagram a month. The plant-filled paradise is a feast for the eyes and a must visit location. Each corner of the venue is Insta-worthy, with draping plants and towering trees, it is an experience like no other.
Tips on how to make your restaurant more Instagrammable
Making your restaurant ‘Instagrammable’ doesn’t need to cost a fortune. Follow our simple tips below on how you can make your restaurant the perfect Insta-worthy spot:
- Know the importance of good lighting
Guests want to be able to take good pictures whilst dining. Angle lighting at 45 degrees for the most flattering pictures.
- Create a drink or meal which stands out from the rest
Whether it be by adding floral garnishing or a chocolate melting moment, create something that diners can’t resist taking a picture of!
- Incorporate fun features in your venue
This could be something as simple as an artificial flower wall behind a mirror, so guests can take pictures with friends. You don’t need to break the bank - get creative!
How to bring the psychology of restaurants into your business
There is a lot to take in when it comes to the psychology of restaurants. It’s best to start simple by making smaller changes first. Figure out what works best for your restaurant and diners. What can be done easily and at a low cost? Small changes can positively impact sales without costing a fortune to complete!
- Start out by changing the layout of your restaurant. Move furniture around to see what works best for your venue and the needs of your guests.
- Incorporate new colours into the design. Whether that be a new lick of paint or bringing in new features, such as flowers, artwork or statement pieces of furniture. Don’t be afraid to clash textures, colours and shapes!
- Look at the design of your menu. Is it easy for diners to read? Are the deals easy to see? Is the pricing displayed correctly? You can easily use free tools like Canva which provide templates to help create a new menu design.
- Allow the fresh cooking smells from your kitchen to flow through the venue. Diners like to smell the fresh aromas of the food they are about to eat!
- Now more than ever, customers’ first instinct is to photograph restaurants (and their food) to post on their social media. Whether it’s making sure your restaurant is aesthetically pleasing or having the right lighting so customers can get snaps of their dishes to post online, it will prove beneficial to overall business goals.
Great design doesn’t mean compromising accessibility
In 2010, the government introduced the Equality Act which legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. So businesses legally do need to make sure they’re abiding by the law and creating inclusive spaces for everyone to enjoy. Plus, creating an incredible dining experience should mean that you’re creating it for everyone who might want to visit your restaurant!
For example, when creating a menu make sure you’re using colours that are easily digestible for everyone, including people who have colour-blindness or colour vision deficiency (CVD). Have you also considered creating a braille version of your menu or a digital version that has a voice transcript function?
You should also make sure you have space for guide dog and wheelchair access when laying your tables out and that there’s enough seating that is easily accessible with clear routes to amenities.
When it comes to accessibility, this is just scratching the surface. VisitBritain has some great resources on how to make your business more accessible, especially those that rely on tourism as a driver.
We can help making profit in your small business easier
Here at Dojo, we specialise in providing contactless card and payment solutions for small and medium businesses, making it easier than ever for you to easily take payments and keep cash flowing. We’ll do our best to have your money in your account the very next day, even on bank holidays, meaning you never have to worry about late payments.
To analyse the psychology of restaurants multiple sources were used to find out the methods in which restaurants use colour, music, lighting, scent, furniture, layout and menu design in order to psychologically entice customers to return and have the best possible experience in their restaurant, driving sales as a result.
The study also looked into which restaurants are the most Instagrammable and different methods restaurants can use to make their restaurant more Instagramable.
 UK restaurant market to grow 59% in 2022 (James McAllister for BigHospitality, 2022)
 Leading restaurant chains in Great Britain in 2020, by number of visitors (Statista, 2022)
 The Psychology of Restaurant Interior Design, Part 2: Scent (Fohlio)
 The Basic Principles of Feng Shui (Anjie Cho for The Spruce, 2022)