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Distracted Dining: The taste of ambience

In this D&D, Nancy contemplates how ambiance can enhance or distract from the dining experience.
Distracted Dining with Nancy Revie

Mood rings. Who remembers those?

The colour of the ring changed based on the temperature of your finger. Mood rings were accompanied by a colour chart to indicate the supposed mood of the wearer.

Throughout the rainbow of hues the most common colours for a mood ring to turn is between green and blue. Emotions in these colours range from mixed, restless, irritated, distressed, normal, sensitive, jealous, upbeat, optimistic — you get the idea.

It was fun to wear and compare these rings. Whether or not the colour of your ring helped you feel a certain way was always an interesting topic of conversation.

When juxtapositioning for a successful dining experience, ambience may not be the first thing you think of, but it’s incredibly important. Ambience is the atmosphere or mood you enter. It contributes to the overall experience.

Top notch restaurateurs consider this when planning their restaurant or bar. Customer experience — the ambience — sets the tone for the customers and tells them how to feel. Kind of like a mood ring. Ambience is crucial to an overall satisfying dining experience.

What contributes to ambience? Lighting has a big impact on the mood of a restaurant. Dimmer lighting creates a cozier, more intimate feel. Too dim though, and those of us who are 50+ may have a difficult time reading the menu and though tech-savvy, our idea of a good time at dinner does not include looking stupid by using the flashlight mode on your smartphone. Lighting should be evenly distributed throughout. As much as dim lighting can be a challenge, it’s no fun sitting at a table that feels like it’s under a spotlight. We’re there to enjoy a meal, not be interrogated.

Food generally looks more appetizing if it isn’t illuminated with harsh lighting. This is where the right ambience can actually make the food taste better. Sounds crazy, but it works.page1image19808

I always look around when I enter a restaurant to see where I’d like to sit.

Too light? No thanks. I can see too much and everyone can see me.

Too dark? Nope. I can’t see a thing.

That nice side table with the chandelier above and a candle on the table — perfect.

If I can find the spot that makes me feel all Mood Ring Indigo-darker blueish (​deeply relaxed, happy, lovestruck, bliss, giving), I’m already giving kudos to the experience and I haven’t even looked at the menu.

What’s that I hear? OMGoodness. LOUD country and western music in a fine dining restaurant. Blech. Suddenly, I’m not liking the place so much. My taste buds are turning without having tasted anything.

Let’s talk tunes. Music is an important element that plays in a restaurant’s ambience. With all the technology available to us, I’m completely turned off by the most popular local radio station playing in a restaurant — even more so if it is just shy of the stations. Seriously? That sings of a cop-out to enhancing an important part a customer’s dining experience.

It behooves restaurateurs to think about what fits the mood of their business. Music is an element that can certainly detract from an otherwise superior dining experience. Depending on the restaurant, there are a myriad of music options. Should it be jazz, classical, lightrock? Even if it’s quieter, every guest no matter where they’re sitting should be able to hear it.

Music should be in the background, audible, but not overpowering mixed with the complimentary surroundings with just a hint of warm fuzzies. The goal should be to aim for the Mood Ring pink mode — very happy, warm, affectionate, loving, infatuated, curious. Yes, music can definitely change your mood. Nothing screams black (fear, angst, serious, overworked, stormy, depressed, intense) like a poor music choice.

Finally, decor factors into creating a mood. Artwork, furniture, table coverings, flooring — these things should all be working together — setting the mood and allowing the customer to meld into the perfect ambience to enjoy it all.

Pet peeve of mine — plastic plants. I have never met a plastic plant, coated in years of dust, adorning a restaurant window sill, hallway, bathroom or corner that has in any way enhanced my dining experience. I have met plastic plants that have steered me clear of what otherwise may be a great place to eat. Lose the plastic plants — they choke the life out of ambience.

Obviously great food and drink is important to the success of any restaurant. That being said, the details can also make a huge difference. Paying attention to the details will create an ambiance or ambience — you choose — that will make you want to return again and again. It is enough to change the colour of your mood.

Nancy Revie is a Guelph author, motivational speaker, fitness instructor and entertainer. Visit Nancy at​​. Her column appears every other week.