How to Make Restaurant Ambiance “One Size Fits All”

Ambiance is the defining feature of your restaurant, but it can also box your restaurant into a certain category in your customers’ minds. Are you a casual “beer with friends” restaurant? Are you an “anniversary celebration” restaurant? Not only do these restaurant ambiance classifications limit your customer base, they also cut down on your sales. There’s no reason you should purposefully hurt your restaurant revenues, so today’s post discusses how you can create a “one size fits all” ambiance to bring in every type of customer for every kind of occasion.

What Upscale Restaurants and Bars Have

Perhaps you’ve positioned your establishment as an upscale restaurant or bar. A few defining features of upscale restaurants are:

  • Cozy seating
  • Low lighting
  • Tablecloths
  • A fancy drink menu (such as a digital wine menu)
  • Romantic atmosphere
  • Classical music
  • Carpeted floors
  • Quiet voices
  • Complex flatware arrangement
  • Uniform / dress code for staff
  • Impressive wine list
  • Cushioned seats
  • Prix fixe options
  • Fireplace
  • Interestingly shaped glassware
  • Wine glasses as part of the standard table setting
  • Cuisine nouveau
  • Luxurious bathrooms
  • Paintings or decorative clocks on the walls

What Casual Restaurants and Bars Have

If your restaurant isn’t upscale and fancy, it’s probably a casual restaurant. Here are a few of the defining features of casual restaurants:

  • At least one television on a sports station
  • Beer menu
  • Live band
  • Un-cushioned seats
  • Easy-to-clean tables
  • Flatware rolled up in a napkin
  • Condiments as part of table set up
  • Hard floors
  • Loud voices, including calls of “Order up!” from the kitchen
  • Staff clad in jeans
  • Blue plate specials
  • Standard pint glasses, usually a bit scratched
  • Burgers / fried food
  • Stall-filled bathrooms
  • Stone or brick walls, sometimes with murals

How Can You Blend Upscale and Casual in Your Restaurant?

I’ve got good news. Your restaurant doesn’t have to fit into a single category. If you combine elements from both upscale and casual dining experiences, you’re likely to become a go-to place for many different occasions.

  • One television on a sports station, behind the bar and closed-captioned
  • Include both an impressive wine selection and a large beer selection on your drinks menu (make sure to offer craft beers from local breweries)
  • Live bands only on certain nights of the week, and for specific hours of those nights (not too late)—choose music that everyone will enjoy, such as gypsy music
  • Un-cushioned seats and easy-to-clean tables (to cover you in case of beer spills), but choose tables with tiled tops
  • Flatware rolled up in a napkin
  • Condiments as part of table set up, but include gourmet condiments that fit your menu
  • Hardwood floors
  • Quiet voices, but staff with personality
  • Casual uniform / dress code for staff (black pants, nice shirt, no tie, no gloves)
  • Prix fixe specials, or upscale specials such as escargot
  • Interestingly shaped glassware for beers and wines
  • Upscale specials in addition to a standard, build-your-own menu (for example, burger specials that include goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and onion marmalades—or pizza specials with truffle oil)
  • Stall-filled bathrooms, but with decorative elements inside
  • Exposed brick walls that display local artwork

In Conclusion

When traveling recently, I went out for a pizza and beers at two separate places, in two separate cities, with two separate friends. The first place I went to had a decidedly casual atmosphere, with standard pizzas and a large selection of local craft brews. The pizza was delicious, but the crowd all wore jeans and I wouldn’t go there for an anniversary. No one would.

The second place I went to also served pizza and beers, but they had clearly thought extensively about the ambiance they wanted to project. As I sat there with my friend, he commented that he liked going to the restaurant for all sorts of occasions: dinners with his parents, grabbing a fun after-work beer with friends, and just coming in to eat alone. The crowd inside the restaurant seemed to feel the same as he did. Guest clothing spanned the gamut: professional clothes, jeans, suits and ties. No matter what your mood was, that restaurant made sure to offer exactly what you were craving. It wasn’t hard to imagine their success continuing many, many years into the future. Will yours?

Photo licensed by Jenny Downing