Restaurant Color Psychology

Menu Design & Psychology
June 30, 2017

So the last couple of days we’ve been talking about situational territoriality, and how things like personal space can affect your diners’ behavior and levels of satisfaction. Today we’re going to pivot a bit and move the discussion into color psychology.

Quick aside: I’m partially color blind (red + green). I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned that in the past, but in case you’re new, there you go. Despite this fact, for years I worked in a photo lab doing color corrections on customers’ pictures, and that experience somehow let me skip the Color Theory pre-requisite that my Color Photography class in college had. So I sort of scammed my way through, which was pretty awesome. And has nothing to do with anything, except, you know, colors.

Color is another one of those areas where there is a large amount of cultural baggage and subconscious processing going on. Retail and marketers have been hip to this for years, and a ton of time, effort and money has been thrown at research to determine how people react to different colors. Restaurant designers have also gotten in on the act as well, coming up with color schemes that evoke the desired mood and feel of the overall concept.


Today we’re going to go over some of the underlying reactions that people have to specific colors. Ready, set, GO!


Cool colors, lighter colors and lighter shades of colors “recede” from the eye. That is, they give a feeling of airiness. If you want to make a small room look bigger, lighter colors are the way to go.


Warm colors, dark colors are the opposite: they “advance” towards the eye. You can use them to make big rooms feel cozy, but be warned that dark colors can get oppressive quickly.


Bold colors and/or primary colors tend to convey urgency and speed, which can be a subtle hint to decrease meal duration.


Subtle colors (think pastels) are more relaxing and encourage lingering.


Like most colors, black has both positive and negative connotations. On one hand, it’s classy, modern and authoritative. On the other, in Western cultures it’s synonymous with death and evil. I personally like black quite a bit, but I’m also writing this while wearing a black heavy metal t-shirt, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. It’s great as an accent color, and if you’re clever about it can even step up and be the main attraction.


Blue historically symbolizes loyalty and serenity, which are good qualities to have! But it’s also an appetite suppressor, because in a food context our bodies equate blue with toxin and spoilage. Ugh!


Brown is a neutral color that tends to be calming. Darker browns are more opulent and masculine, lighter browns are warmer and feminine.


Green is calm and soothing and earthy and can be warming or cooling, depending on the shade.


Classy and timeless or dull and boring? It all depends on how you use it. Greys are very flexible neutral colors to work into a color scheme. They can class up a place or give it a calming feeling.


An appetite stimulant. Warm, fun, vibrant. Darker shades can be soothing, lighter shades are loud and energetic. Earthy and autumnal.


Rich, luxurious and decadent. Calming. An appetite suppressor.


Another one of those colors that have a number of different meanings. Red is an appetite stimulant. It can be warm, inviting, cozy, passionate and exciting. Very flexible, though almost always bold.


Cleanliness and purity. Depending on the decor it can be dull and drab or calming and airy. White can help decrease your meal durations because it can also be glaring and oppressive.


Before my son was born, we decided that we were going to have a space-themed room for him. The blue paint that we chose ended up sucking and didn’t coat evenly after numerous attempts. For some reason, we decided to do a yellow room instead, thinking that we’d offset it with dark blue accents. Man, what a nightmare. It was absolutely obnoxious to look at, and the room glowed.

Yellow is the hardest color for the human eye to process, so a little goes a long way. It’s a stimulating color across the board, and tends to be associated with warmth and happiness.

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