LED Lighting Design Basics for Restaurants

Until recently, “lighting design” for a restaurant often consisted of simply flooding the space with maximum light.  But with the introduction of more stringent energy regulations and a new trend towards branding with more flexible LEDs, restaurateurs have increasingly turned towards smarter lighting design.  LED restaurant lighting not only reduces the energy requirements and operating cost, but enhances the atmosphere through increased control.  Low-voltage LED lighting is the most controllable LED solution, dimmable to less than 2%.

So what exactly is smarter lighting design?  Let’s talk about some of the basic ingredients for designing with light. We’ll start with an overview of considerations for defining your aesthetic, and then we’ll go over the basic types of lighting used to create your desired effect.

Defining Your Lighting Aesthetic

As with any lighting design project, you should first address the aesthetic approach that will best suit your target demographic. Be it kitschy or classy, the lighting should suit the mood and add to the ambiance.

restaurant led lighting, commercial led lighting, commercial lighting systems, commercial lighting installationIn general, lighting considerations should include:

  • Lights that work – no missing or non-functioning lights
  • Lights should be dimmable and easy to control throughout the day
  • Glare from fixtures, walls, or accents should be minimized and/or managed
  • Lighting should draw attention to artistic touches
  • Food must be brightly lit during the dining experience for the most appeal
  • Avoid over-lighting corners, ceilings and floors when they are not designed to be focal points in your space

Lighting upgrades you might consider:

  • Branded color matching (now simpler with LEDs)
  • Control system for “scene” effortless light management
  • Color changing lighting
  • Occupancy sensors, daylight controls, demand response control, and other required components for meeting new energy standards
  • Lighting should reinforce the theme of the restaurant, help define space, and contribute to the impression of quality

Pro Tip: When planning the lighting design, pay careful attention to the surfaces throughout the space. Are surfaces reflective? Are they in need of any repair? Are they interesting or not so much? Determine what areas should be emphasized, and which need to be minimized. Brighter areas are contrasted with dim areas to help define the space.

Types of Lighting for Restaurants

You can think of lighting in a restaurant as essentially three varieties – ambient light, accent lighting, and featured décor. There are variations, of course, but thinking about them in this fashion gives us a good start. Think of your space being “layered” with light.  Ambient sets the baseline, accents provide the contrast, and featured lights are focal points.

Ambient Illumination

restaurant led lighting, commercial led lighting, commercial lighting systems, commercial lighting installationStarting with what you might call your lighting baseline, ambient lighting is the light that fills the rest of the space. It’s the light that exists outside of areas that you’d like to draw attention to. This may be the ceiling, if it’s nothing special. Or it might be parts of the walls that are not points of interest. These are generally a recessed light, rail lighting, or your indirect or reflected light from walls, mirrors, or other bright surfaces.

Accent Lighting

Accent lights are used to call attention to the special touches, architectural elements, art, or other interesting design elements. These lights are brighter, or more intensely focused, than ambient lighting.

Featured LED Lighting Décor

Featured lighting has less to do with lighting the space, and more to do with reinforcing the brand’s design theme. They also add interest to the space in general, drawing the eye and effectively adding to the layers of designed light in the space. These lights can be wall sconces, pendant lights, or a uniquely designed light for the space. Generally, this is one design element that should be well considered and is worth an investment.

So, these are the tools you’ll have to work with when designing your space.  When you work with SAVE Electronics, you’ll receive a level of service that you’re probably unaccustomed to in a lighting company. We work with you to help you understand and implement design strategies. We don’t just sell a turnkey low-voltage lighting system – we are a partner in defining your brand lighting strategy.

Pro Tip:  If you’re considering switching from an incandescent light to LED, remember that doesn’t mean you have to lose an existing fixture that you feel is identifiable to the brand. In many cases, your existing lighting can be retrofit with a low-voltage LED alternative.

Meeting New Energy Standards

New standards like California’s Title 24 have pretty much made designing your restaurant lighting a necessity. Every watt is counted, every fixture measured, so no more simply bathing the entire space in light. The new standards also require more automation and control. Here are just a few of the new requirements for California in 2014.

  • Buildings over 10,000 sq. ft. must have demand response capability
  • Must be able to reduce lighting energy use to a level at least 15 percent below the building’s maximum lighting power
  • Daylight controls: Photosensor required in daylit spaces over 2500 sq. ft.
  • Photocontrols in all interior daylit spaces with at least 120W of lighting power installed

There are many, many more requirements in the very strict new Title 24 codes. California is typically a trendsetter for these kinds of regulations, so we will be watching and learning from the challenges created by this new law.

Pro Tip: Adding a control system that utilizes low-voltage power distribution has more advantages than just meeting new energy standards. Control systems add great new functions like automated ‘scene’ changes throughout the day, color changing effects, and other tools for ease of management. Addressing native low-voltage LED fixtures with low-voltage power also improves overall efficiency and reduces heat to the fixture, which eliminates premature failure and color degradation in your LEDs.