You think you’re in charge, having planned the time, the companions, the type of cuisine, and the ambience for a dinner out. You have chosen the restaurant. But what you don’t realize is, the restaurant has chosen you. Every detail has been meticulously plotted around your age, status, and preferences to lead you blithely to the restaurant’s door. And you thought you just wanted dinner.
Here, a look at all this strategy: the thinking behind the bar, playlist, tabletops, menu, hostess desk, and everything else you see, hear, taste, and smell.
The best pleasures engage all our senses, and good restaurants aim to do the same. What we generalize as ambience, they distill to minute specifics. Those butter-gold walls that seem like a dining room staple? It’s not due to an industry paint color discount or the owner’s sunny disposition. “Warm colors are stimulants,” explains Stephen Zagor, dean of business and management studies at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, noting yellow, red, and orange. “Appetite suppressants are pale green, blue, and purple.” Another stimulant: smells. “They turn us on more than any of our senses,” he says. “We have an emotional attachment to smells—think baking bread or wood smoke.” If a restaurant doesn’t emit them due to kitchen venting, it can purchase them; Zagor cites technology that allows scents to be infused into the air. A less pricey option: those silver plate domes lifted in front of you at haute-cuisine temples. Leave it to the French, those sensualists.