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Today's shoppers are increasingly looking for restaurants offering themed destinations rather than exotic cuisine. The days are over when the toughest challenge for lighting designers was to provide enough light to read the menu.

Creative ideas combining the talents of interior designers, sound engineers and lighting professionals now deliver an array of theme restaurant concepts β€” concepts taking customers into the depths of a rain forest or to the surface of Mars. But before patrons can enjoy dining during realistic thunderstorms, a high level of cooperation must be achieved between the architects and construction professionals. If communications among the different building trades breaks down, the project may easily derail.

In an effort to improve relationships between architects, designers, builders and business owners, the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), in association with the Lighting Industry Resource Council (LIRC), developed the Guidelines for Specification Integrity.

Lighting designers must be familiar with the entire construction process and remain flexible enough to develop a working relationship with each building group. The goal of the Guidelines is to explain the important role lighting designers play in building projects and to help them navigate the entire construction process.

Architects must balance the needs of providing sufficient room for the kitchen staff, ensuring enough customer seating to make a profit, while also giving the bar a high profile. Historically, lighting design was often ignored. This led to seating arrangements that exposed diners to glare from direct spotlights or unsightly back-of-house lighting.

Today, with the development of exhibition or display kitchens and a higher level of client sophistication, lighting designers are an integral part of the design team. By participating from the start, lighting designers not only gain a better understanding of the owner's expectations but have more flexibility providing lighting solutions.

Planning the project

According to Chip Israel, IALD, LC, of Long Beach, Calif.-based Lighting Design Alliance, lighting designers add to the design team. β€œIt can either enhance or ruin the dining experience. The designer must light the architecture, the faces, the food and the menus. But it is the way they are lighted that brings drama to the space.”

Bringing an artistic concept to life requires delivering specific details to the entire construction team. All the information, including lamp type specifications, must be included in the electrical design plans in order to be included in the bid. Restaurant owners should question electrical plans that don't clearly note product, lighting control locations and lamp sources for each fixture. If left incomplete, both the purchasing and the building process can be seriously delayed.

Lighting designers should also participate in the bidding process. Electrical contractors or other sub-contractors bidding on the job may have working relationships with manufacturers that don't produce the specified equipment and will propose using substitutions. Even if the substitution meets the specifications, there may be a significant reason for the lighting designer's choice. The bidding contractor may not be aware of the owner's desire for energy efficiency or ease of maintenance. Restaurant owners should make sure the lighting designer has the option to accept or reject the offered replacements.

Restaurant owners should schedule walk-through inspections with their lighting designers to make sure the lighting fixtures and control circuits are correctly installed, prior to the ceiling being installed. This helps eliminate expensive or time-consuming rework.

Staying informed

A primary concern for all lighting professionals is the need to develop a working knowledge of available lighting products and to continually examine new cutting-edge equipment. Rather than collecting manufacturer's catalogues and storing boxes of tested equipment, independent lighting designers are building and constantly updating their databases of lighting equipment specifications.

This invaluable tool allows lighting designers to deliver definite, defensible standards to architects. This ensures the restaurant owner receives the lighting as promised by the designer and usually at the best price.

To further improve the quality of lighting designs, the LIRC and IALD constantly remain in contact to discuss lighting problems and develop solutions that can be passed on to the end users of their lighting products and designs. As more and more professionals in the construction industry become aware of the Guidelines for Specifications Integrity and put its suggestions into practice, the entire building industry will benefit.


Fullilove is executive vice president of the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), an international organization promoting the lighting design profession. IALD provides referrals to IALD-affiliated lighting designers. Contact the association's office in Chicago or visit

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