Get Lit: How to Give Your Bar Cool Mood Lighting and Improve Its Atmosphere

How much thought have you given to your bar lighting?

You probably put careful thought into the seasonal decor, the drink specials, the menu, and of course, the staff you hire. But if you’re not invested in the best restaurant lighting design, you’re missing an important piece of the puzzle.

Research has shown that lighting can change a person’s subjective response to a situation. That means you can literally change how your patrons feel while they’re in your establishment by changing up the lighting. They might not consciously notice the difference, but they’ll find themselves coming back to your establishment again and again.

Ready to learn what you need to know about bar lighting? We’ve got your answers here – keep reading to learn more.

1. Consider Color Temperature

Yes, colors have a temperature! At least, they look like they convey a sense of warmth, coolness, or something in between. And the temperature you choose to convey can say a lot about your space.

As a matter of fact, lights don’t just appear to be warm or cool: they literally have a temperature, which is measured in Kelvin. Each source of light has its own color temp. But color temperature isn’t like body temperature – it’s actually not related to heat output.

If you want warm light, that doesn’t mean you need to buy heat lamps. Lower color temperatures are actually associated with warmer-looking colors. As the Kelvin color temperature goes up, the light veers into cool-looking blue territory.

It’s a bit confusing, but it’s basically just the opposite of the way we usually think of temperatures. Warmer light temps mean cooler light colors and vice versa.

What’s the right temperature for your bar? Most experts agree that warm-looking amber hues are a winner. They make people feel comfortable, which can encourage them to eat and drink more. If the light color is too cool, it takes on a greenish cast, which makes people, food, and drinks all look unappealing.

Color Caveats

Sometimes, you’ll be restricted by certain things that affect the color temperature you can choose.

You’re probably working with a budget, and with local building codes. For example, the local codes might require you to use LED lights. LEDs also help save money, keeping you under budget. However, there aren’t many colors to choose from when it comes to these lights, so this might restrict your temperature choice.

However, over the years, lighting manufacturers are gradually introducing more variety in the bulbs you can choose from. There are also other ways to visually change the color of the space. If the light is too cool, use warm paint on the walls to counteract the effect.

2. Choose the Right Brightness

How bright or dim should your bar be?

People have different associations with different brightness levels. No matter what the color temperature is, if the lights are too dim or too bright, it will mess up the ambiance. Bright fluorescent lights are harsh, not welcoming. That’s why they’re used in fast-food establishments; they don’t want people to stay longer than they need to.

Of course, you don’t want your bar lighting to scream “fast food.” Dim light is usually ideal for upscale food and drink establishments. Be especially careful if you’re designing with exposed light bulbs since they can easily become way too bright.

Then again, you don’t want the light to be too dim. People will get annoyed if they feel like they need to use their phone’s light to read the menu.

The light in the kitchen always needs to be on the bright side, so your staff can see what they’re working on. However, if you have an open kitchen concept, make sure the light looks pleasing to patrons, even though it’s bright.

3. Use Layers of Light

A layered look is a great way to get the bar lighting just right. The best lighting almost never comes from having all the lights at the same height.

Especially for tricky situations like an open kitchen, layering can help. Try using lower ambient lighting so the staff can see their work, without blinding the eyes of your patrons. For a bar, pendant lightings always look nice, but you don’t want them to be too low. Otherwise, it will seem like there’s a wall between the customers and the staff.

No matter what, if you use layered lighting, you need to plan for a cohesive-looking result. It shouldn’t seem haphazard.

4. Placement Matters

It goes without saying that where you place the lights is an important factor in restaurant lighting designs. But which placements are best?

The right temperature, fixtures, and lighting output will do no good if the lights aren’t in the right places. For example, it’s nice to see lighting over restaurant tables, but if it’s too close customers will feel like they’re in a spotlight.

Even if you want more of a nightclub feel, there needs to be brightness in the appropriate places, even though you don’t want it too bright. The bar needs to be lit so people can easily find it. People also need to be able to see the dancefloor, the DJ, and any performers. No matter how dim you want it, strategic lighting goes a long way.

5. Try to Be Invisible

Your lighting, if it’s done right, is something most customers will never notice. It should blend into the background and become an “invisible” part of the experience.

If the lighting is off, anyone will notice it. If the lighting is just right, only people who consciously pay attention to design will take note – and it will be in a good way.

Ready to Buy Better Bar Lighting?

Did some of these bar lighting tips come as a surprise? Hopefully, you now have a few ideas for how to design the lighting in your new establishment – or upgrade the lighting in an existing one.

Looking for more commercial lighting tips? Learn how you can make more sales with great retail lighting here.