The ultimate guide to creating the perfect ambiance in your hospitality space

As a business owner in the hospitality industry – be it a hotelier, a restaurant manager or owner of a chain of bars, there is a great opportunity to create the right ambiance which is both aligned to your brand, as well as will enhance your overall guest experience, and this is through taking advantage of our 5 senses

Ambiance design is a key ingredient in the delivery of exceptional service, which in turns generates customer loyalty and revenue. If you get the ambiance right, this opens the door to a successful relationship with your customers and partners, however, if you get it wrong, it could be detrimental to attracting customers. Thinking about the correct ambiance for a hospitality space, be it a hotel, restaurant, bar, pub etc., doesn’t happen over night as there’s a lot of planning which comes into play: which physical and sensory elements need to compliment each other, getting the timings of trading patterns right and most importantly, ensuring it remains authentic to your brand identity and vision. If there are several ambiance options, define the range of moods you want to create and what it will take to influence those moods. 

Management has the overall responsibility of defining and nurturing the desired ambiance for the overall customer experience – physically, sensory and interpersonally at every touchpoint. Many business owners go by the adage “what is created, is what is controlled.” And yes, this can most certainly be true as the control of ambiance elements does lie in the hands of management, and if it’s done effectively, it should attract the right clientele, who in turn will amplify the experience and add to the ambiance. Maintaining the physical facility in which your business operates in is not more important than maintaining the service ambiance created every minute by staff member. 

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Creating the desired ambiance through sensory experiences 

We live in an era where there’s an explosion of options, customers are spoilt for choice, society is bombarded with communication channels and messages; and with such a crowded marketplace, emotional engagement with brands has never been more important and ambiance creates this engagement and attachment. The more frequently and consistently a brand can connect with a consumer on an emotional and intangible level, the strong and deeper the brand engagement, customer bond and loyalty.

Hospitality spaces are in the experience business. From the moment customers open your doors until they leave a review of their encounter on social media, it is all an experience-based customer journey. It’s tempting to try break down the individual components of this journey into separate elements which create the ambiance and mood- i.e. interior design, service staff, atmospheric and scent. However, it’s crucial to understand this is not how our minds work when it comes to evaluating the ambiance of the overall experience. The human mind takes in a massive amount of sensory input and subsequently summarises, deduces, simplifies and distills it down until we have a comprehensive and manageable overall sensation and ambiance.

The following five components can endorse the ambiance of your hospitality spacescent, lighting, interior design, music / soundscapes and taste. When these elements are blended together it has the power to transform a space into something opportune and tailor-made to what’s important for your brand.

The power of Scent

Sense plays a crucial role in how we remember and experience things. The right scent has the power to reinforce a brand message and connect with customers on another level. The power of scent drives loyalty and guest retention. According to Science Daily, humans have (a whopping) 400 smelling receptors and may be able to smell over 1tn of scents. With this in mind, using scent as part of your ambiance-package is very important, as the wrong scent can turn customers away maybe never to return again, however, if they are drawn in and attracted by the right scent, this has the potential to connect them to the venue, increase customer engagement and the likelihood of them recommending you will soar. 

Scent is our most primitive sense, it’s the closest thing to the emotional brain. It penetrates you. You love it, and you want to be a part of it. –Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone

Scent marketing / Scentscaping is the use of a strategically chosen fragrance / scent diffused at customer touchpoints, and can vary from space to space. The right fragrance and strategy will communicate a pleasant and favourable brand identity, and can help increase sales and brand loyalty by creating the desired ambiance which in turn will enhance the unique customer experiences. It’s a win-win! The stats below speak for themselves:

Given that scent is processed in the region of the brain associated to emotions and memory, more businesses should take advantage of this to make sure their customer experience is memorable by this one element of the overall ambiance. For every space with your hospitality business, there is a scent objective. For example in a hotel, lobbies are where the first impression is created, and therefore this scent should contribute to the overall ambiance, enhance the company’s branding as well as the customer experience. Like other amenities, the sensory experience should complement the design and decor. 

  • Intercontinental Hotels have four signature scents for different seasons of the year. During winter they use a cranberry, apple and marmalade scent to mimic warm and wintery smells.
  • Holiday Inn uses just one scent to set the tone in all its properties worldwide. This consistency is useful for creating a distinct and recognisable brand.

The Art and Science of Ambient Lighting 

When a guest walks into your hospitality space (hotel, restaurant, bar), it’s very likely that they probably won’t discern the exact art and science of its lighting design to create the desired ambiance. An unusual or opulent chandelier may catch their eye, but that’s about it. Research shows that an adequate amount of light improves mood and energy levels, while poor lighting contributes to depression and other deficiencies in the body. The amount and type of lighting directly affects moods, concentration, appetite and many other aspects of daily life.

Colours have the ability to create distinct moods, which lighting can either emphasise or detract from, therefore when considering lighting for a space, there are multiple other elements at play. Say for example a hotel room is blue, this can appear cheerful and relaxing in the daylight. However, during the nighttime, it can be particularly gloomy. This is something that warm lights can counteract. Therefore, light can be used to create an ambience and welcoming feel when paired with the right décor and natural light. The right light can create a warm and friendly atmosphere; however, the wrong light can easily detract from a nicely decorated room.

A little bit of science: the warmth of a light is measured in Kelvins, ranging from flame whites at 1,800K all the way to cool, blueish lights reading 8,000K. For example: warm white lights give off a yellowish glow which is great for low, ambient lighting which creates intimacy around seating areas whilst still offering enough illumination to be able to perform basic tasks.


In addition, the Colour Rendering Index (CRI) of a light source refers to its ability to reveal the colours of various objects truthfully in comparison with a natural light source. This may be completely irrelevant to us as customers, however to business owners it can bolster or damage your offering.  This needs to be taken into account when thinking about lighting over food and beverages so the authenticity of the item is reflected.

  • An index score of 100 indicates that the light is showing colours as they would appear in natural daylight—as accurately as possible.
  • As the index drops lower than 79, light renders colours less and less accurately to the human eye. Below 50 will be quite noticeably inaccurate.

Like all other ambiance constituents, it’s vital to make the best use of light in each space, to create a sought-after atmosphere throughout the entire venue. Take a restaurant for example, the lighting will need to differ at different times throughout the day. In daytime, where natural light changes are more noticeable, different scenes make it easy to adapt and maintain the right light level. On the other hand during the evening, the lighting may be needed to assist in creating a romantic setting and ambiance.

Interior Design and Aesthetics

Hospitality space interior design is of vital importance when it comes to creating ambiance contributing to the positive experience for your customers, employees as well as anyone else who steps foot into your venue. First impressions last! The design and infrastructure will help represent the audience that you’d like to attract and retain, communicate your brand promise, as well as highlight the amenities on offer. A great hospitality experience should be more than the sum of its parts, and therefore a successful design should amplify everything that you do. 

The important point to remember is that the design solution you need, should be completely in tune with the DNA of your brand.

David Chenery, Director at Object Space Place

Sight is usually the main sense which customers use when entering a hospitality space and therefore what is on visual display needs to contribute to the overall ambiance and atmosphere. This encompasses everything from interior design and layout of the various spaces, the types of furniture and fabrics used, the indoor-outdoor ratio, to the innovative use of space. Thinking about sight, businesses need to concretise what message do they want to portray to their guests? Do they want them to feel cosy and relaxed? Or possibly is it a more fast paced environment which needs to be fit for purpose, trendy and innovative in design? For example, darker shades of furniture with warm texture details can create a warmer / cosier atmosphere than the bright colourful design with glass deco elements.

It’s important to remember that competition in the hospitality sector is fierce, and tedious or monotonous spaces may struggle to connect with the targeted audiences which they’re after. Whether customers consciously realise it or not, their choices of venue does match their aesthetics and aspirations, and therefore, much focus and attention does need to go into designing the space effectively, efficiently and innovatively.

5 ways to ensure the interior design enhances the overall ambiance: 

  1. Discover interior design focus: How can you best deliver on your brand promise / purpose / DNA in a visually-appealing way? Keep this focus in mind as you decide everything from your theme and overall aesthetic to colors, furnishings, artwork, fixtures, and more.
  2. Use psychology to choose colours: Colour can affect guests’ mood and the perceived size of a room. For example, light colours are perceived as airy and make rooms feel brighter and more spacious, whereas dark colours, on the other hand, lend sophistication and intimacy.
  3. Match form with function: Beautiful interior design should never outweigh function. Features need to be easy to use and understand and not just pretty to look at. 
  4. Location-inspiration: Bring in some local touches, be it architectural elements, building materials, period styles, or even décor.
  5. Don’t eliminate transitions: While they aren’t glamorous to interior design, the transitions throughout your space are important to get right and make sense in order to prepare customers where / what’s next.

The Power of Music and Soundscapes

Music is a powerful tool to engage customers and shape the desired ambiance and subsequent experience desired in a hospitality space. Plus, the right music can boost revenue and bolster your bottom line, as well as build a consistent and recognisable brand identity. Music communicates your venue’s values and can unify your brand across multiple locations.

It’s hugely important for all elements of ambiance to work together. From furniture to lighting, and of course – music. Music defines the personality of a social space.

Jen Needleman, Head of Entertainment, Events, and Partnerships at Harbour Hotels 

Music is an important tool you can use to change the way your customers feel about your business. By choosing music that reflects your hotel’s brand, you can attract certain types of customers and even influence their behavior.

Thus, music is central in building positive customer and guest experiences. According to research by MarketingCharts, 81% of consumers say that business background music lifts their mood, while 71% say it creates a better atmosphere overall. And when customers feel good in a space – they act different within it. Did you know that simply playing music that consumers enjoy makes them 24% more likely to buy a product? It’s no wonder why 84% of organisations who focus on improving customer experience report increased revenue

Different atmospheres require different types of music. For instance, you would play very different music during Sunday brunch than you would during Friday night happy hour. It’s therefore wise to truly understand your demographic of your customers, trading patterns and the type of ambiance which is best suited, then music can be planned ahead of time and ultimately even scheduled.

We spoke to Loud and Clear Audio Visual about how getting the right AV to play your playlists for your space can help contribute to a great atmosphere that will help a venue stand out from the crowd, attract customers, increase time spent in the venue and encourage repeat business. If your music is spot on, yet the equipment is poor, the chances are that there will be a dip in customer experience which has numerous ramifications. 

Below are six elements to take into account when considering which AV is best for your sound and ambiance: 

  • Speaker Type: Which is most effective for your space, between ceiling speakers, wall mounted speakers and invisible in-wall speakers?
  • Venue design: Should your speakers on show or not? Some speakers can be painted in any RAL colour to blend in with the surrounding. Others look great and can compliment the surroundings. The type and size of speaker will also be determined on how loud the music will be played. 
  • Venue layout: Is having different volume controlled areas important, for example should the speakers near the bar be quieter to allow customers to order easily?
  • Foreground or background music: Do the speakers need to handle a DJ or band at the weekends? Or is it just playlists? To achieve that full range sound with low end bass, installing separate subs are recommended.
  • AV location – Ensuring there is a cool dry location to house all the AV equipment will help keep the system in good shape and increase its longevity.
  • Sound leakage: Are there any sound limit constraints within the building? 

Taste to win hearts

The words of the wise adage “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” rings true when deliberating your customer experience and how to make the ambiance complimentary to both your people and the people who come through your doors. The freshly brewed coffee wafting through your venue, or the smell of freshly baked cookies on arrival to the signature cocktail in your bar which is distinctively yours will help penetrate your customers’ hearts and taste journeys, which in turn will allow them to rejoice in the ambiance from a holistic perspective.

Local or seasonal foods will help tell a story of your hotel’s destination, different unique concepts, which guests cannot find elsewhere or offerings based on trendy diverse cuisines from vegan fine dining to zero waste eating. The Vice President of Hilton Worldwide’s Food and Beverage says “guests want to eat local and they should be able to do that right inside their hotel”. 

You ready to explore how your brand can create the RIGHT sensory ambiance to enhance your customer experience?

Here at Ambie, we’re passionate about all things hospitality (and of course, music)! We partner with thousands of hospitality brands around the world helping them achieve more through the power of music, and other sensory elements in order to create the perfect ambiance, brand consistency, a sound reputation and positive bottom line. Sound like something you could benefit from? Simply get in touch for a chat with one of our Hospitality Specialists.

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