How Human Senses Affect Restaurant Design

When a customer enters a quick service restaurant,  a wide range of sensory factors affect their mood and behavior. These psychological influences can have a huge impact on a store’s productivity, sales, and guest satisfaction. By learning how each sense is affected by specific design choices, an owner can optimize their store layout to reach ambitious sales objectives.

Sight: Light and Color

Sight influences a customer’s first impression more than any other sense. What someone sees when first approaching an establishment can make them hungry, anxious, welcome, or even disgusted. These psychological responses are influenced by both light and color. While light and color are closely related, they have distinct influences when it comes to restaurant design. The primary colors QSRs should consider are:

    • Red –  Traditionally, QSRs use a lot of reds and yellows due to the belief that they induce hunger and energy. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King all want you to order a lot of food and then get out as quickly as possible.
    • Orange – A highly underrated color for QSRs that makes customers think of warmth, security, and most importantly, food. Orange is also considered a fun color. If it’s over used, however, customers may interpret an establishment as being juvenile or unprofessional.
    • Black – Rarely used in more traditional burger and fry restaurants, black can convey a sense of sophistication and glamour that modern eateries should take advantage. Black is best used in design as a contrast to lighter hues, so it shouldn’t be the primary focus of a restaurant’s color design.
    • Green – A color associated with harmony, balance, and refreshment, green is used in strategic ways by brands like Sprite and 7-Up. Green should be used by QSRs in moderation, as the color can induce feelings of boredom and stagnation.
    • White – Commonly assumed to be merely a neutral tone, white actually produces explicit psychological responses in restaurant customers, such as cleanliness and a sense of space.

According to research by the University of Cassino, light stimuli affects the “level of aesthetic appreciation by the perceiver towards a given environment.”  Changes in lighting can create feelings of spaciousness, visual clarity, privacy, pleasantness, relaxation, complexity. Traditionally, bright lighting is used to enhance the psychological impact of a chosen QSR color palette, especially red for hunger. They are also used to induce a bit of haste in diners so that establishments can serve more customers. Fine dining establishments, who often have a different objective, create darker environments where customers feel more subdued and relaxed, inspiring them to order more alcohol, desserts, and appetizers.

Sound: Kitchen and Dining Area

Sound in a restaurant is impacted by two main factors: dining room layout and kitchen setup. In the dining area, owners can create a noisy and boisterous atmosphere with music, televisions, and lack of acoustic dampening features. According to research, excessively loud background noise can suppress salty and sweet flavors and even the overall enjoyment of food. On the other hand, similar research also showed that loud environments can cause customers to over eat. Finding the right balance may require some experimentation. Music choice also helps owners target specific demographics.

One QSR design aspect that highly affects sound, but also sight and smell, is whether or not to have an open kitchen. Many popular chains have embraced a restaurant layout where customers can hear and see how their food is being prepared. In some restaurants, this can lead to a high level of customer satisfaction due to the perception of greater transparency. The sounds of sizzling, searing, and crackling from grill tops, deep fryers, and other cooking appliances can also increase customer appetite significantly.

Smell: Push Specific Products

Smell is integrally connected with taste. A great smelling restaurant will produce hungry customers, but smell can be used as a more complex tool. If a customer walks into a location and smells a particular ingredient they find enticing, they may be more likely to purchase a product with that particular component in it. Restaurants can use this to their advantage to push high-margin menu items. For example, bacon has a very distinct and attractive aroma. By making sure people entering your store smell bacon first, sales of premium priced bacon related items are likely to rise. In fact, many QSRs moved the cooking process of certain items into the front of stores, despite the increased costs, just the create appealing smells at their locations.

Touch: Actual and Perceived Customer Comfort

Restaurant customers experience touch through their hands, feet, and where they sit. Table topss, trays, counters, floors and door handles can all impact their perception of a location. Surfaces that are prone to stickiness should be avoided to prevent the perception of filth.  Smooth surfaces can make an establishment feel clean and sanitary. A hard floor with wood chips would be okay for a fast service BBQ place, but softer carpet would be more appropriate for a finer establishment. QSRs looking for particularly fast turnover often create hard, relatively uncomfortable seats to get customers moving as soon as they finish their meals. Fake wood and upholstery is a popular choice because it gives the perception of quality while providing only a modest amount of comfort.

Whether the goal of a QSR is to make customers hungrier or push high margin products, psychological influences through sight, sound, smell, and touch are very valuable tools. The more managers and owners understand how their customers think, both consciously and subconsciously, the better position they’ll be in to improve satisfaction and profitability. Even the smallest details can produce big transformations.

Disclaimer: This article was intended for a previous client who no longer needs it. It’s available for purchase. Just send me a message. 

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