Photos by Josh Keown & Rick Daugherty
The rules of color were introduced early in life, usually with finger paints or crayons or markers, and the rules seemed simple: yellow and blue make green; red and blue make purple, and mixing all the other colors together makes a gross brown or drab gray. It was fun, easy, creative and definitely messy.
And it still can be. Not necessarily with fi nger paints or crayons or markers, but with paint. Operators can bring back the joy of coloring or painting when designing or redesigning a restaurant space. By putting one or more colors on the walls, the look and feel of a restaurant can be enhanced, changed or determined. Color can influence mood, set a tone and create a style.
“We believe color has a huge impact,” says Howard Cannon, CEO of ROI Consulting and Restaurant Consultants of America in Birmingham, Alabama. “The color impacts how the customer feels from the dining perspective and speed of service. We believe color has an impact on appetite.” According to Cannon, bright colors like reds, purples, and yellows are found in more fast food restaurants because they convey a concept of speed. By contrast, earth tones are found more in casual and fine dining restaurants.
“Designing for fast food restaurants is much different than, say, a high-end, upscale restaurant,” says Kate Droege, an interior designer in Cincinnati, Ohio. “The fast food (restaurant) would use bold, intense colors to stand out from their competitors, while the upscale restaurant would use colors that reflect the company, food or specific atmosphere/ feeling of the space.”
Color, both inside and out, should connect. “There is a strong influence of colors and psychology. This can also be tied to the demographic that one is targeting. The exterior color also plays a role and should reinforce the interior,” says Bernard C. Stolberg, managing partner and SVP of MCG (Management Consultant Group) in Metairie, Louisiana.
A restaurant’s concept and brand should determine the right color. Susan Pitaccio, president of Maxey Hayse Design Studios, Inc., in Nutley, New Jersey, says that “colors should always be selected based on your restaurant’s concept and brand. It is always important to tie your brand concept and target clientele together. Never lose focus on your brand. It will always lead you to the correct answers.”
Cannon develops a concept and integrates it with color, and agrees color needs to compliment the brand. “We mesh concept, brand, logo and target customer to develop a color scheme,” Cannon says. “Restaurants want to give the experience of a shortterm version of a vacation. Restaurants want to connect to theme or concept, and using brighter colors can do that.”
Adds Pitaccio: “Don’t be afraid of color. Color adds character and drama to a restaurant. It helps to create a unique dining experience, and it is an inexpensive way of making a change.” Pitaccio goes on to say that “there have been some studies that show certain colors will affect thirst, such as orange. I also believe that creating an overall color palette that is warm and inviting will draw more customers.”
Jonathan Poore, author of Interior Color by Design, explains that color can aid in “setting the emotional tone or ambiance of a space; focusing or diverting attention; modulating the space to feel larger or smaller; breaking up and defining the space; and unifying the space or knitting it together.” Additionally, color can be enhanced by other elements like lighting and furniture.
“I’d argue that lighting has more of an affect because of its visual impact on a person,” says Droege. “A bright, lit space like McDonald’s (along with hard, uncomfortable seating) is aimed for quick turnaround. An upscale restaurant may have dimmer lighting and comfier seats to encourage lingering, because you’re enjoying a pricey dinner.”
Cannon said that a dimmer light scheme is found in casual dining restaurants, while bright lights and recessed lighting are found in fast food restaurants.
Adds Droege: “The thing about design is it intertwines so many elements. Focusing on one thing is detrimental, because it doesn’t allow you to combine the strengths of other elements. The lighting and furniture has as much of an impact on customers’ dining experience as does the colors selected.”
The cost of color can be determined by the size of the space. “The cost comes down to the number of square footage — no two jobs are the same, but any professional is going to discuss ideas and quote the work for free; the consultation is free,” Cannon explains, before adding that there are three ways to redo design: “One, the DIY or Home Depot route, which usually is a mistake; two, advice from a consultant who lacks real design experience; and three, an experienced design consultant — which can be expensive, but the money put in can be made many times over if the job is done right.”
Cannon goes on to say that “a design consultant can help with the whole look and feel that the customer experiences. Restaurant design is so much different than designing your home. In a home, you’re dealing with a few people and not a lot of wear and tear. But in a restaurant, you have to realize the traffic. It’s a different animal altogether.”
Lastly, says Poore: “Effective color design does not need to add any cost to interior renovations or construction; it is a simple matter of planning ahead.
The best approach is to look at all the paint colors and other materials as a single color composition.” The rules of color learned early in life still hold true for restaurant operators. Putting color on the walls can be a great experiment, and it can create surprising results. So, break out that color wheel, get creative and a little messy. ❖
DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Dayton, Ohio. She specializes in features and human interest stories.
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