Lights, Music, Attraction! 7 Ways To Effectively Create Ambiance In Your Bar

A survey was carried out by Big Hospitality across 236 hospitality professionals that found “72% [of guests] have left a venue earlier than planned because it was too brightly or poorly lit” and “74% of guests have stayed longer than planned because the lighting made them feel relaxed and welcome.”

Those are some pretty huge numbers to pay attention to if you’re in the restaurant game, especially if lighting/atmosphere has only really been an afterthought until now.

Studies also show that music plays a key factor in how food and drink is ordered and consumed. Knowing what effects various music styles, volume, and speed has on your patrons can aid your strategy to have them visiting again and again.

If you want your guests’ experience to be one that draws them in and encourages frequent revisiting, it might be time to consider both lighting and music to maximize your attraction.

The following are 7 simple points to consider when trying to create an attractive atmosphere. We’ll start with lighting and move on to bar and restaurant music.


5 drinks cheers with yellow lighting


1. Be Dim-Witted

No, I’m not suggesting you be dim, but rather, understand how dim lighting effects the environment of your establishment. Robin Goodfellow, of Little Bones Beverage, PrettyUgly and Bar Raval—which was named #1 in Canada’s 50 Best Bars in 2018—had some insights to share on the matter at the Restaurants Canada Show 2019.

In an open-discussion interview, Goodfellow proclaimed his love of dimly-lit barrooms. “I used to tell the staff to make it so dark,” he said, “that if someone dropped their coins or whatever on the seat, they wouldn’t be able to find them.” With a bit of a laugh, he underlined how he “definitely wouldn’t do that anymore,” but still emphasized the positive effect the lighting style had.

For Goodfellow, it’s pretty obvious: “If it’s good lighting, you should be able to see each other, but like, your guests shouldn’t feel exhausted to be there. It’s very important.”

The “exhaustion” he spoke of comes from incredibly bright lights that either make someone feel like they’re being interrogated or in a grocery store. A lot of us are used to florescent lights in fast-food places, since the environment there is one that gets many customers in and out as soon as possible. But if you want them to stay, enjoy themselves, and come back, you need to create a relaxed, comfortable, and welcoming atmosphere.


2. Color Me Impressed!

Another important aspect to lighting is color temperature. This isn’t about how hot/cold your bulbs are, but actually about the colored hues they’re giving off. In a nutshell, “cool” temperatures are in the blue/green realm, and “hot” colors are red/yellow/orange.

What you want to be mindful of is the amount of “cool” colors you’re using. Generally, warmer colors lend themselves to a more flattering presentation of food, as the cooler temperatures tend to give off an unflattering, blue/green tint to dishes.

Depending on the placement of lights, services you offer, and layout of your venue, however, cool color temperatures can serve as an interesting way to highlight your bar area, suggesting a “refreshing” quality.

A small change in color can totally change the entire environment, so experiment until you’ve got it perfect.


3. Everything In Its Right Place

Where you place these lights is just as important as their intensity and color. You might want to think outside the box and consider a variety of locations where light could be used. The walls, the floor, and even digital display screens can be used to produce interesting lighting designs for your concept.

Another interesting concept worth considering is layered lighting—different kinds of lights placed in various locations for dynamic effects. Ambient lighting covers your basic area, but adding what’s known as accent lighting can add drama to your space by highlighting architectural features, artwork, menu boards, and any other elements you want attention drawn to. Decorative lighting—fancier, aesthetic lights like string-lights, candles, or spotlights—can be the final touch you need to really make you interior pop!

However, make sure you’re fully aware of the layout of your venue and the location of your electricity sockets. It’s all well and good to have a fantastic vision of your lighting, but it still needs to be grounded (no pun intended) in reality. This is yet another reason lighting shouldn’t be left as an afterthought, or set up right before opening the venue.


4. Be A Screen Saver

If you’re using TV screens around your location, you’ll want to consider the many different options around what’s displayed on them. Simply flipping to any station, like ESPN or MTV, can often conflict with the ambiance you’re trying to establish—especially if you have music playing that isn’t connected to what’s happening on screen. There’s also the problem of these stations playing commercials, potentially even competitor’s ads, that no one wants to be distracted by on their night out.

It’s worth looking into a holistic approach to your audio/video needs. Music videos are a fantastic way to combine both modern music and interesting visuals to your venue—however, as stated previously, MTV and similar stations play a lot of ads that completely take away from your guests’ experience. Services like Control Play can offer DJ-quality music playlists and music videos that seamlessly transition into each other, with no ads, and can be completely customized.


5. Turn It Down For What?

How loud or quiet your music is played has been shown to effect eating/drinking and ordering habits of customers. If food is your focus, you’re going to want to keep the music at a moderate level—people want to be able to have conversations and relax. If you’re more focused on serving up a bunch of great drinks, studies show that loud music leads to more consumption of alcohol in less time; just make sure to not completely intoxicate your guests.

Ultimately, you’ll want to cater to your vision and the expectations of your guests. As Robin Goodfellow put it, ask if your bar is “behaving the way it should.” Modern vibes need modern music, and soft, dining experiences need something a bit more laid back. Find your focus and nail down what’s right for you.


Hand pushing slider up on mixer


6. Don’t Have A Tempo-tantrum

Much like the volume at which your music is played, careful attention should be placed on its tempo—how “fast” the music is played. The Association For Consumer Research conducted an experiment that found “when slow music was playing, customers spent significantly more on food and drink than when fast music was playing.”

Now, this isn’t to say you want boring, elevator music playing during your lunch rush—in fact, another study shows that specifically “easy listening” music is detrimental to food sales. But if you want your guests to enjoy a nice long meal with some appetizers, drinks, and maybe a dessert, you need to create an ambiance that invites them to stay and not feel rushed.


7. Timing Is Everything

Both lighting and music can change as the day progresses. You might want to consider matching the natural light outside, especially if you have large windows. As the sun sets, maybe the vibe changes from quiet music with a slow tempo and lighting with cool color temperatures, to an energy-packed playlist for a louder, nightlife experience, complimented with warm colored lights. With the right amount of foresight, investment, and planning, this can be achieved fairly easily on a day-to-day basis.

It’s also worth noting that the demographics of your guests may change throughout the day as well. For example, maybe you have an older crowd at lunch than your happy-hour—they’re taste in music is likely to be drastically different. This again is a good reason to be able to dynamically shift your audio/visual experience as the day goes on, so you can cater to the exact wants of your guests.



Whether you’ve been running your business for a long time, or you’re considering opening your own bar/restaurant soon, don’t make these “little things” an afterthought—studies show they’re more important then we tend to realize on our own.

“I don’t think lighting and music is debatable,” says Robin Goodfellow, “if your music sucks and your lighting is off, I don’t care if you’re the best bartender in the world…see you later, ya know?”

“These things matter and those are a given,” Goodfellow concluded, “if you can’t get that right, drop your original cocktail list, screw your home-pickle-fermenting program, don’t talk to me about sustainability… let’s start at the base here.”

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