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How colors impact restaurant guests’ dining experience


Philadelphia, PA SCA and its global hygiene brand Tork created the Color Experiment to learn the effects of color on dining experiences. Results show that color has a clear impact on restaurant guests’ moods and emotions, helping inspire hospitality industry design.

“We know that color sets the tone and ambiance of a restaurant,” said Suzanne Cohen, Foodservice Marketing Director with SCA’s North American Away from Home Professional Hygiene business. “But we wanted to learn more about how colors enhance guests’ experiences and whether specific colors are better-suited for certain environments.”

The experiment consisted of 16 guests equipped with brain wave headsets, experiencing eight different environments, each in a different color. Each setting was designed with restaurant attributes – from walls and floor to furniture and tableware – designed solely in one color.

For each color experience, the guests were asked to taste a beverage and a miniature macaron – identical in all aspects except for color, matched to the surrounding environment. The study measured participants’ brain activity and heart rate in each setting, and each participant answered questions on their reactions to the different settings. 

The analysis showed distinct, reoccurring patterns in moods and emotions provoked by each color. The study also revealed that participants perceived correlation between certain colors and occasions (e.g., romantic dinner dates vs. a formal business lunch). Results were then analyzed to create a profile for each color (highlights below).

“At SCA, we are committed to research that leads to the products and solutions that help our customers be ready for business. We hope that the results of the Color Experiment help inspire restaurant owners and managers when they design their establishments,” said Cohen. “Whether the goal is to spark romance or encourage relaxation, Tork recognizes that color and harmony are important factors in creating the perfect dining experience.”

While some furnishings are designed to stand out, others should blend into the environment where they are used. Tork Xpressnap® tabletop napkin dispensers are available in a broad range of contemporary colors to suit different environments and needs. They are also designed to dispense premium Tork napkin products, so restaurateurs don’t have to sacrifice quality for style.

Key Color Experiment Results:

  • Meditative Green: Brain wave results indicated a revitalizing quality associated with green, highlighting that it is linked to restorative, deep relaxation and immune system improvement. Study participants described green as relaxing, calm and welcoming and their heart rates were below average when visiting this room. They also perceived this color environment to be suitable for lunch or coffee with familiar people.
  • Sophisticated Black: Black is a complex color and was perceived as luxurious, modern and sophisticated but at the same time unwelcoming and boring. It was strongly perceived to be suitable for a sophisticated dinner date or evening drinks. Brain wave readings gathered from this room color’s visitors indicated high levels of creativity and arousal, but also a lower level of focus – making it less appealing for business setups.
  • Calm Blue: This color gave high indications in the delta wave range, which means deeply relaxed states. High theta waves also indicated creativity and emotional connection. Participants described blue as welcoming, calm and relaxing. They shared that this color works well for a family-friendly venue to have breakfast or coffee, but not for a luxurious restaurant experience or a venue used for business meetings.
  • Romantic Red: Among participants, red gave high indications in the delta and theta brain wave ranges – meaning strong emotional connection and high levels of creativity. The study also showed that those who visited this room exhibited high heart rate results, indicting this color creates a stimulating environment. Red was strongly associated with romantic meals and evening drinks.
  • Exciting Yellow: Yellow is an exciting and fun color, suitable for an energetic environment. Participant brain wave results indicated higher states of arousal and conscious focus in this space, but in extreme cases, also higher stress levels. Also, both the average and maximum heart rates where high for yellow room visitors. The color was perceived to be suitable for breakfast experiences and was also the most popular color for child-friendly venues.
  • Happy Orange: Overall, orange was perceived as modern and fun and is typically associated with happy experiences together with kids and friends. Participants also noted that the color was somewhat unromantic, slightly stressful and not luxurious. The brain wave and heart rate results from study participants showed that orange might be a more neutral choice compared to other strong colors such as yellow. Orange also gave mid-range indications of gamma waves, associated with learning and information processing.
  • Traditional Brown: Brown scored low on the majority of brain wave ranges, indicating a neutral color. Delta wave range and heart rate results suggest that brown may also encourage relaxation. Brown is perceived as traditional, neutral and relaxing. This color was preferred by study participants for more traditional breakfast and coffee venues and is easy to match with other colors, making it a versatile option for restaurant design.
  • Luxurious White: White stood out with low indications for all brain wave ranges – indicating a neutral color and blank canvas for guests’ experiences. Thus, white is also perceived as the best color for business settings because it creates neutral environments that do not distract from the task at hand. The color was seen as luxurious and modern, but scored low on aroused emotions such as fun and exciting.

More information about the color experiment

The study was executed by research agency United Minds, commissioned by Tork, an SCA brand, with the purpose of testing how colors affect dining experiences. The experiment was held at the venue Färgfabriken (“The Color Factory” in Swedish) in Stockholm, Sweden on December 2nd 2015. The test was performed with 16 individuals, distributed into four separate sessions, providing 128 unique observation points. The test persons were recruited to ensure a good demographic variety. Each of the test subjects was equipped with an EEG recorder headset (MindWave Mobile) and a heart rate wristband (Mio FUSE) throughout the experiment. The test subjects spent five minutes in each room. During each session the EEG device recorded five observations of brain wave data per second, resulting in some 1500 brain wave observations per room and person. The heart rate was recorded continuously in each room. After each five-minute session, the rooms were restored and test subjects moved to the next room to follow an identical procedure. To minimize the effect of fatigue and routine on the overall results, the experiment was designed so that each room had the same number of starts and finishes. All data was aggregated room by room and then analyzed in relation to other rooms in order to reveal potential differences in experience that could be due to the change in colors.                             

About Tork

The Tork brand – - offers professional hygiene products and services to customers ranging from restaurants and healthcare facilities to offices, schools and industries. Products include dispensers, paper towels, toilet tissue, soap, napkins, and industrial and kitchen wipers. Through expertise in hygiene, functional design and sustainability, Tork has become a market leader. Tork is a global brand of SCA, and a committed partner to customers in over 90 countries.

About SCA

SCA – - is a leading global hygiene and forest products company. The Group develops and produces sustainable personal care, tissue and forest products. Sales are conducted in about 100 countries under many strong brands, including the leading global brands TENA and Tork, and regional brands, such as Libero, Libresse, Lotus, Nosotras, Saba, Tempo, Vinda and Zewa. As Europe’s largest private forest owner, SCA places considerable emphasis on sustainable forest management. SCA was founded in 1929, has its headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden.