The Psychology of Restaurant Interior Design, Part 1: Color

(Welcome to our five-part series on the psychology of great restaurant interior design. Today’s post, Part 1, focuses on color. Stay tuned for the next installments!)

Contrary to popular belief, restaurants are not built to cater to the greatest common denominator. It’s actually quite the opposite: Great restaurants know exactly who their target clientele are, and therefore carefully conceive and build an experience around their needs and desires. Restaurant interior design, therefore, is not merely for the purpose of making a dining establishment pleasing to the eye; it is a careful science that aims to tap the diner’s every senses just right.

When you come upon a restaurant, the first of your senses that gets triggered is sight. Colors, therefore, are a dining establishment’s first line of offense in luring you in.

The color wheel can essentially be divided into three sections, according to function: Strong Stimulants, Mild Stimulants, and Suppressants.

The Psychology of Restaurant Interior Design, Part 1: Color | Fohlio | color wheel
Image: Industville

1.) Strong Appetite Stimulants

The Psychology of Restaurant Interior Design, Part 1: Color | Fohlio | Strong Appetite Stimulants
Image: Industville

If you’ve ever thought that almost all restaurants use red in some form or shade in their design scheme, well, you’re not imagining things. It’s a well-established fact that red is the most effective color in stimulating the appetite.

Why is this? Red is abundant in nature, and the brain’s reptilian response to it is a carryover from the days when our ancestors were still hunters and gatherers. Red, especially bright reds, would usually signal energy-dense, sugar-packed fruit or vegetables.

The Psychology of Restaurant Interior Design, Part 1: Color | Fohlio | Aubrie Pick
That couch, though. Image: Aubrie Pick

Orange and yellow are also appetite stimulants. Yellow is associated with happiness, which is usually associated with a full stomach. When you see yellow, therefore, your brain secretes serotonin in anticipation of the food you’re about to eat.

The Psychology of Restaurant Interior Design, Part 1: Color | Fohlio | yellow
Blue Orange Restaurant, Dubai. Image: The Westin Dubai

Orange, on the other hand, elicits feelings of warmth and comfort — emotions that are also tied to the security of an abundant table.

2.) Mild Appetite Stimulants

The Psychology of Restaurant Interior Design, Part 1: Color | Fohlio | Mild Appetite Stimulants
Image: Industville

Green and turquoise are mild stimulants. You might argue that green should be a strong stimulant because many leafy vegetables are green, and you’d be partly correct. Green signals edible, benign, non-poisonous plants. However, these plants are merely fibrous, not sugar-packed like most colorful fruit, which provide a jolt of energy.

These days, green is also associated with health. This is unsurprising, given that, again, most green things are fibrous and don’t have sugar.

The Psychology of Restaurant Interior Design, Part 1: Color | Fohlio | turquoise
Zona Restaurant, Budapest. Image: Position Collective

3.) Appetite Suppressants

The Psychology of Restaurant Interior Design, Part 1: Color | Fohlio | Appetite Suppressants
Image: Industville

Lastly, black, brown, purple, and blue are appetite suppressants. Research suggests that this is because these colors don’t exist in nature — that is, not in the form of food.

Long ago, blue, black, and purple also signaled something that was either rotten or poisonous, which our ancestors learned to avoid by sight. Like our brains’ response to red, orange, and yellow, this is also a carryover from those days.

The Psychology of Restaurant Interior Design, Part 1: Color | Fohlio | purple
The Opposite House Hotel, Beijing. Image: Kengo Kuma and Associates

We hope you enjoyed Part 1 of our series on restaurant interior design. We’ll publish the next installments over the next few days, so keep an eye out! In the meantime, try putting together a mood board for your dream restaurant using Fohlio!

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