A case of ambiance gone wrong
It was the second place on a private pizza tour and I decided to take a risk by taking my group to a new stop. Part of my job is to introduce New Yorkers to great under-the-radar pizzerias and this one had opened in an otherwise pizza-deprived neighborhood, so I was extra excited. Everything seemed to be going great; the pizza was perfect, beverages were appropriately paired and service was exactly what we needed. That’s why I was completely shocked when every single person in the group told me that they weren’t likely to go back. I was stunned. How could a seemingly brilliant experience like this not lead to return business for the restaurant? As our conversation unraveled, I quickly saw that they were absolutely right.
The biggest complaint was that the pizzeria was too bright. New York City restaurants are deep into a trend toward low lighting and lots of other cities are following suit. Customers love the cozy vibe created by candles and Edison bulbs even if it comes at the expense of menu visibility. Low lighting creates an intimate atmosphere that makes customers feel like they’re getting a unique experience and brightly lit spaces have the opposite effect. I noticed that every other stop on the tour that night had lower lighting than the pizzeria in question and my group liked all of them more.
Our problem with lighting was accentuated by the restaurant’s physical space. First, the walls are painted bright yellow. That’s not a big help to a space that’s already brightly lit. Secondly, the ceilings are extremely high. Small spaces have the same effect as dim lighting — which is why they’re often paired — so large spaces only highlight the harsh reality of ample luminescence. This pizzeria has two levels, but the second floor is a mezzanine so it doesn’t cover the entire footprint of the space. My group felt lost in the room because of its high ceilings even though the square footage wasn’t much greater than any of our other pizzeria stops that night.
The final flaw came in the form of floor-to-ceiling windows. Not only did my group feel lost in a cavernous room with bright lighting, they also felt like they were on display to the public. We tend to visit restaurants as an escape from our regularly schedule programs so it can be a little unnerving to have reality peering in at us from all angles.
Between the lighting, room size and gigantic windows, the general consensus was that the pizzeria felt too corporate. That’s a bad trait for a restaurant in New York, whose residents herald independent businesses and shiver at the thought of anything with enough locations that it might be considered a chain. This particular location had housed two restaurants prior to its current tenant so the problems have been inherited. Let’s hope that the pizzeria we visited on that fateful night makes the necessary changes to keep people coming back. After all, their food is fantastic and that’s harder to repair than the wattage on their bulbs or the color of their walls.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.