The psychology of colors in restaurants explained

Jay Kitterman, now Consultant for the Culinary Institute at Lincoln Land Community College, Feb. 12, 2015.
Jay Kitterman, now Consultant for the Culinary Institute at Lincoln Land Community College, Feb. 12, 2015.

I receive several restaurant industry periodicals and a recent article on colors intrigued me.  It prompted me to do some research on the topic, and I am sharing what I learned with you today. The author of one article appearing on the “Webstaurant Store” website writes that “colors can make customers happy, boost their appetite, increase table turnover, and will make the dining space seem more spacious.” The article goes on to say that colors can also have a “negative effect on your customers, and thus it is important to understand the psychology of colors. “

What colors go together and what is their impact on us?

Light color scheme colors are ivory, beige, pale yellow and light gray. A light color scheme can be used to make a smaller room look bigger than it is. Light colors have a leisurely and relaxing atmosphere which makes them good selections for upscale restaurants and bistros. However, due to the relaxed and comfortable nature of light colors, it is not ideal for restaurants that want a high turnover rate. As I write this, I am reminded of Mike Murphy’s mantra at his former restaurant Charlie Parker’s, “Eat It & Beat It.”

Dark color scheme colors are brown, purple, navy and dark green. Dark color schemes create intimate and romantic settings. They are good for some bars, trendy restaurants and romantic bistros. However dark colors can make a space feel cramped and claustrophobic for some.

Warm color scheme colors are yellow, terracotta, red and gold. Warm colors are exciting, bright and provide visual stimulation for guests. But because they are bright, they can become irritating after a long period of time. They are the colors to choose if you want to increase your table turnover rate.

Earth color scheme colors are brown, olive green, beige, umber and dark orange. They are referred to as “nature’s colors” and are ideal for welcoming environments. With the increasing popularity of healthy and local foods, these colors are becoming more popular. Orange is described as the color of adventure and social communication that positively portrays traits including optimism, enthusiasm and self-confidence – all ideal for a vibrant dining environment. Specific shades of orange are gradually being included in more and more dining designs. 

Pastel color scheme colors are sky blue, pink, light yellow and pale green. These are softer colors and used often in bistros and casual restaurants. Since they are so neutral, they can blend in with most types of décor. These colors were very popular in the 1980s and are becoming popular again in trendy restaurants. 

At Lincoln Land Community College, I am assisting with the annual Multicultural Fest which this year will be on Wednesday, Oct. 12. As we become more diverse in our restaurants and eating habits, I found a few interesting articles on “colors across cultures.” The articles describe how color is perceived by different cultures. I had read previously that Disney when designing Euro Disney restaurants and signage, featured purple. Market research later revealed that purple is perceived differently. In Europe and in Catholic Europe, purple symbolizes death and the crucifixion. Disney has since reduced the usage of purple throughout the park. 

Red: Most fast-food company logos include at least one red element. Red logos tend to reflect a strong and energetic brand. It is a color associated with young people, with individuals full of life and daring. Also, red encourages buyers to make a purchase, being a call-to-action color. Red normally evokes excitement, love, and when combined with green you have traditional Christmas Colors. In India, red is associated with purity and brides often wear red wedding dresses.

Green: In Western culture we are often seeing more green, associated with healthy-nature-environment but in some Asian countries, green is a forbidden color for it represents exorcism and infidelity. In Mexico, green is the national color, stands for independence and patriotism and a popular color for Mexican restaurants. Peppers, cacti and yucca plants are prominent hues of green and often featured in Mexican restaurants.

If you have traveled in Europe, you probably noticed that McDonalds replaced its traditional red backdrop with a hunter green, all part of an effort to appear more environmentally friendly. Other measures included swapping over to non-hydrogenated cooking oil used to make the fries and then recycled for use in their vans. Menus were also changed, with the introduction of organic milk, sustainably grown coffee and toasted deli sandwiches.

Thank you for allowing me to share this information with you today, and I close with a quote I saw attributed to RuPaul, “Life is about using the whole box of crayons.”

Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value-Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through LLCC Community Education.

Cooking or food questions? Email

Jay Kitterman is the culinary and special events consultant at Lincoln Land Community College.

More information

Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management and Baking/Pastry, and non-credit cooking and food classes through LLCC Community Education. For more information, visit

Cooking or food questions? Email

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: The psychology of colors in restaurants explained