| | Print
Opened paint buckets with various colors

Pink walls, pink tablecloths, pink chairs—the love for Joe Marzilli’s Old Canteen in Providence, Rhode Island is unapologetically colorblind.  Luckily, they can get away with it because it’s been a city favorite since 1956. It reminds you of sitting in your grandmother’s living room – if your grandmother catered several course meals and invited all the city’s original Italians that fill the parking lot with low-ball license plates like number two and ten. Joe’s restaurant is built on family and is untouched by time, however, most restaurant concepts should abide by some type of restaurant decor ideas. 

Most restaurants can’t get away with a fabulously pink decor though, in fact, most shades of red are a no-no.

Building customer loyalty and retention is a huge part of growing a restaurant business and the ambiance of a restaurant is a huge part of why patrons come back.

Want to make color work for you and knock it out of the restaurant color design park? Here’s how.

restaurant colors and plates

Why Restaurant Colors Should Be The First Part of Your Restaurant Design

Color impacts so much more than just aesthetics. People actually have psychological reactions to colors and those reactions can affect everything from whether or not diners come to your restaurant in the first place to how long they stay and how much they order. As Chron explains, “the more effectively a restaurant design utilizes color to establish an image, create ambiance and arouse the customer’s appetites, the greater the chances are for long-term success.”

Rosalin Anderson, the chief branding officer for Just Salad, agrees. She told Business.com that “strategic color is one of the most powerful tools for restaurants to use to convey an enjoyable dining experience. The selection of the right color is very important, as it can make diners feel a wide range of emotions from very energized to relaxed, and everything in between.”

Powerful stuff, huh? Color is no joke, but it’s also one of the trickiest parts of a restaurant design to get right. Unless you’re an interior design professional, it’s really hard to understand how all of your design ideas will come together in real life until they actually do—and by then you’re invested, in terms of both time and money, making it practically too late to correct a color mistake.

The best thing you can do to prepare is to understand not only how color works in general, but how it works in the restaurant industry specifically. When it comes to space, color can be used to make the space seem bigger or smaller than it really is. Color also goes a long way in defining how intimate the space feels, so right from the get-go you’ve got to be thinking about color… maybe even before you buy. If you have a big, spacious venue in mind but can only afford something on the smaller side, you can figure out just how small you can go without feeling cramped as long as you have a supportive color scheme backing you up.

Then there’s color intensity. Beyond just picking a color, you have to decide how bold or muted you want that color to be. Bright greens and blues are notorious for casting a less than appetizing light on food, but if they’re muted or expertly balanced out with other colors or neutrals then you can get away with introducing green into your natural food-based restaurant without making everything look unappealing to the people you want to appeal to the most (your customers).

restaurant color intensity with reds and blues

When picking the colors that will be the basis of your restaurant’s design, keep your brand in mind and don’t be afraid to experiment. While color is hugely important, it won’t completely make or break your business, so there is room for some trial and error as long as you start small. You can begin by introducing elements of color slowly and see how that affects your customers before you fully commit to it as your final, official color scheme.

Expert Advice On Restaurant Colors

When we consulted the experts, they pushed heavily against red in any sit-down restaurant, saying that red is appropriate only for fast food. Joe Marzilli gets a pass here because his light shade of pink evokes luxury and a bit of ironic decadence. In our research, we found that shades make all the difference.

Here is an analysis that we gathered from color and feng shui experts Cara Gallagher, Dana Claudat, Nancy Zeigler, Gina Mims and Judith Wendell along with Jonathan Raduns, food merchandising consultant at National Restaurant Consultants for some serious restaurant decor ideas and advice.


red color icon

restaurant using red

Almost all of our experts told us that red increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and stimulates impulse eating. While it does provoke hunger, Claudat says, “we mistake red for being a prosperous feng shui color for food—it is not.” Gallagher says the reason why red works so well for fast food restaurants is because their goal is volume. “They want to get diners in and out quickly. The faster the people eat and move along the quicker they can get new diners in their establishment.”

Zeigler elaborated, saying that the hue of red matters. The brighter the red, the more it will repel your customers. “Red stimulates conversation and raises heart rate, so people get excited, physically and emotionally, when they first enter a red room,” she says. Accents aren’t all bad though, as you can see from this example of New York’s Red Restaurant, who despite the name, only uses red as an accent color.

While bright red is typically on the no-no list, Zeigler recently painted the walls of a restaurant a deep brick terracotta color – still a version of red, but on the earthy and warm side. She says that other colors known to stimulate appetite include oranges, persimmon, deep yellows and fresh greens.

Restaurant Color Ideas for Reds

Ashley Anastasia Howell, a graphic designer, lays out color psychology for restaurants and brands on a Medium post she penned in 2016. When it comes to reds, she notes that red tablecloths have actually been found to make customers eat more, but, like Zeigler, she cautions that it needs to be used sparingly. So, if you must use red, tablecloths or other table accents are the places to do it.

Greens & Browns

green and brown color icon

restaurant using greens“Sit down casual restaurants often benefit from  soft natural colors and tones that encourage folks to relax and enjoy themselves, and hopefully order an appetizer and possibly stay awhile longer for dessert and coffee,” says Raduns, “green is a great color for restaurants trying to communicate freshness and healthy options.” Silver is often added to this combination to add a “new age” feel, emphasizing the sense of freshness not only in taste but also in style.

Greens and browns are great, but they don’t work in every restaurant.  Hear to what the experts had to say in this webcast. 

“Health food restaurants have been focused on green and wood,” says Claudat, but green works less well in bars and naturally dark places, where a bright, fresh green turns more dark and dismal, according to Zeigler’s recent redesign of this old pub.

Prasino, the Greek word for “green” is a restaurant in Chicago who chose browns in the form of recycled woods and cardboard to evoke the feeling of health and sustainability.

“Warm earth tones are best for fine dining restaurants“, says Mims. “Use deep reds and rich tones combined with textures and woods. Soft lighting and fire is also an element of color that helps convey a more elegant experience.”

Restaurant Color Ideas for Greens and Browns

Like with warmer colors, if you’re going with green the approach should ideally be a muted, earthy tone that is used on walls and as accent colors. Keep in mind that green is often used to signify health and nature—according to the Balance, using it “can convey the perception that [your restaurant’s] menu is healthier than its competitors.” An innovative option for green and brown together is adding orange for a fresh, more modern take on earthy greens and browns, but remember that green doesn’t bode well in meat-heavy restaurants so if that’s your niche it’s probably best to avoid it altogether.

Oranges & Yellows

orange and yellow color icon

restaurant with orange colorsNeutrals and colors that represent vegetables work best – and despite red being on the blacklist, pumpkin oranges and squash-colored yellows work great. Claudat says that orange gives customers “a stronger sense of physical attachment to live and promote more cheerful overall responses to a space”.

For example, look at Orange Leaf, a frozen yogurt chain that uses orange and white as their primary colors. The color orange makes them feel happy and less guilty about eating sweets, while the white contrast on their walls and tables makes the shop feel clean. Orange Hill Restaurant mixes orange, black and brown to create an upbeat yet formal dining experience.

The combination of orange and green can also create a sense of happy and fresh, which is popular in vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Restaurants that emphasize vegetables tend to use a lot of green, while meat-centric restaurants, like steakhouses, use more browns and blacks.

Restaurant Color Ideas for Oranges and Yellows

Orange Leaf is right on point—yellows and oranges perform best in places like yogurt shops, cafes, and other light-hearted and inexpensive options according to the Balance. If you’ve got a breakfast joint, chances are you can make yellows and oranges work for you. However, unless you’re running a very particular nightclub, always avoid neons. Like with most colors, going bold and bright isn’t advised and it’s best to keep them as accents as much as possible.

Blues and Purples

blue color icon

restaurant using blue colorsBlues aren’t common in restaurants because they don’t evoke a feeling of hunger, but more thirst. Blue provokes your kidneys, so it has “more to do with elimination then digestion,” says Wendell, who also notes the lack of blue-colored foods other than blueberries. She also mentions that even though blue doesn’t make food look appealing (the reason why it’s not a popular restaurant color), “moving water is associated with cash flow in a business and thus you’ll often see a fish tank in front of an Asian restaurant.” It also propagates a sea theme in sushi and seafood restaurants.

Shark, a former hibachi restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island recently pivoted by taking their aquatic and blue-themed restaurant and turning it into a hookah/liquor bar while still serving sushi and small bites. The pre-existing blue overtones will now help the restaurant evoke a feeling of relaxation while encouraging guests to buy more drinks.

“Purples are fun for coffee houses with a bohemian feel but are even better in a day spa, not restaurants,” says Mims.

Restaurant Color Ideas for Blues

While its best to avoid blues and purples unless you really know what you’re doing, like with any creative process, the rules can be broken with excellent results. As Rosalin Anderson explains to Business.com, “[Just Salad uses] a saturated navy blue for our logo to further differentiate ourselves from our competitors that use a lot of green.”

One way blues do usually work, though, is in seafood-focused or nautically-themed restaurants have been known to pull off blues. They key is that they’re often very muted and used alongside a lot of neutrals like light beiges and whites.

Overall though, the best way to use a blue or purple is to use it sparingly. If you go for it in your logo design, be thoughtful about how big or prominent your logo is across your restaurant because even a flourish of blue can become too much if that little flourish is repeated over and over again.

Restaurant Color Ideas for White

Along with beige and light gray, white can make smaller spaces feel roomier. White signifies purity, innocence, cleanliness, and hope, and can evoke simplicity and sophistication when used in conjunction with black. White can create a leisurely and relaxed atmosphere—or feel stark, depending on how it’s used. Note that the combination of white on one wall with a different color on another wall can create the effect of another color. White works well as a secondary or accent color.

Bringing Your Restaurant Together

At the end of the day though, Zeigler says “there’s really no “one size fits all” recipe for doing color design in restaurants.  It’s really all about balance.” Mims concurs, saying, “Sometimes people have a favorite color they like but the real key is to study a bit about color theory to make sure it relates to the concept. It is about the guests’ feelings, not about the owners’ favorite color. If the vibe is energetic, use bright colors, if it is casual, use warmer more relaxed tones. Color is a great way to help invoke a mood and create a complete customer experience.”  If you can pair that customer experience with technology and a restaurant POS that increases revenue and saves money, you’ve got a recipe for success.

Get a free Demo of Upserve POS!

Thinking about opening a new restaurant? Congratulations!

Download our How to Start a Restaurant Guide to learn everything you need to get up and running, from writing your business plan to training your staff for success.

Download The Guide
Written by   |  
As part of Upserve’s family of more than 10,000 restaurants, The Chef is Restaurant Insider’s secret weapon in the kitchen. As a restaurant expert in all things marketing, menu building, management, training and more, restaurateurs trust The Chef and the award-winning Restaurant Insider to dish out the ingredients needed to make your business a sweet success.
Restaurant Insider