The importance of great restaurant ambiance

TDn2K Product's White Box Social Intelligence examines social media each month to determine customer satisfaction with restaurants and correlates it to the financial performance of restaurant chains. In their latest report, they found that ambiance and positive service have consistently been the strongest differentiating factors for top performing restaurant brands - the ones guests seem to be placing a bigger weight on when rating their overall experiences.

TDn2K research found that the top performing brands based on same-store sales growth achieve much better ambiance net sentiment scores than their competitors. Ambiance most determines if a guest is likely to return, more so than food or beverage. Although bad food will ruin a restaurant experience, they found that food executed within the intended parameters will not move the needle as much as a nice, inviting atmosphere throughout a guest's restaurant experience.

The ambiance of the Table 47 restaurant designed by White Hutchinson

What do guests look for when describing a restaurant's ambiance? What key words have the highest value? They found the terms most used by guests on social media when describing ambiance are "appearance," "clean,” and "décor.”

The importance and quality of ambiance equates to financial performance. TDn2K found that restaurant brands that consistently had top same-store sales performance going back to 2017 had, on average, 12.7% point higher net sentiment for their ambiance compared with the rest of the industry.


As this research points out, there are many factors aside from the quality of the food that influence a customer's experience while they are dining, whether this be at a fine dining, casual dining or fast serve restaurant. Setting the right mood, or ambience, based on the atmosphere of the overall interior design including the décor and finishes, furniture, music, acoustics, lighting, table spacing, and other factors plays an important role in customer satisfaction as well as customer retention and repeat business as TDn2K's research shows.

It is important to remember that customers go out to a restaurant not solely for a meal, not just for the food itself. They go for the total experience. They want to be treated and feel special, and the ambience of an establishment contributes significantly to these feelings. The right ambience will allow customers to look around and enjoy themselves, be able to socialize (acoustics are important), feel good and maybe even stay longer than they planned, simply because they want to soak in the atmosphere of the place.

Implications for CLVs

Food and beverage has become an important part of the mix for entertainment venues, in fact in many cases as important, if not more important, as the entertainment itself. This typically includes a restaurant area as part of the center. In the better performing projects, the restaurant is in its own separate area, often marketed as a food and drink destination to itself.

Unfortunately, in way too many projects we're seeing today, including many new ones, the centers are still stuck in the paradigm of the old FEC model of design thinking that it's all about the entertainment attractions and games, so ambiance and atmosphere are not important.

Consumer's expectations for ambiance when dining out are exceptionally higher today based on all the places consumers visit. Even fast service restaurants have raised the ambiance of their stores. If you expect to attract guests to your CLV, the ambiance, the atmosphere of the restaurant area needs to meet those expectations.