Color is often the last thing that comes to mind when designing a commercial kitchen. Plenty of time, energy, and resources go into ensuring that a kitchen is ergonomic, energy-efficient, and well-equipped, and foodservice operators tend to look over the other details.
Many commercial kitchens have all-stainless steel equipment and white floors, walls, and ceilings. While this is important for hygiene purposes, the combination of white and silver can seem cold and impersonal to the kitchen staff.
Most foodservice operators are well aware of the effect of color on their customers. This is why many fast-food restaurants are liberal with their use of reds and oranges; they know that bright, warm colors are more likely to whet the appetite and increase customer turnover. They also know that warm earth tones create a welcoming environment where customers may want to stay longer for coffee or dessert.
But “Should we paint the kitchen walls red or blue?” isn’t a question many restaurant owners ask when building or renovating their back-of-house operations. Most of the attention to the color palette is reserved for the dining area. But just as colors can elicit certain reactions from your customers, they also have an effect on the behavior and well-being of your kitchen staff.
The Psychology of Colors
Plenty of research on the effect of colors in the workplace shows certain colors can increase the productivity of workers. Most of this research is done in office environments, but colors have a universal effect. Using the right colors and color combinations has a subtle but significant impact on the performance of your kitchen staff.
Some pointers to keep in mind, though. Not everyone will have the same specific reaction to a certain color since not everyone has the same life experiences that have shaped the way they view the world. It’s also important to note that the intensity of a color produces profound results. A vivid scarlet, for instance, will have a very different effect from a muted maroon or brick red. Lastly, hygiene and sanitation regulations may limit color schemes to lighter shades that allow for easy inspection.
Among the colors of the rainbow, red is the most physically stimulating of all. Research shows red can rev up the heart rate and raise blood pressure. It can also create the illusion that time is moving faster than it actually is. In the fast-paced, high-energy environment of a commercial kitchen, literally seeing red can help kitchen staff make rapid-fire decisions and keep up with the demands of the busy workplace. When they have 50 dishes to prepare and only an hour to get all those dishes to the service counter, red can help keep employees sharp and on their toes.
However, too much red can be too stimulating for your staff. Depending on the individual personalities of the workers, red can create aggressiveness or anxiety in the kitchen. It can cause tempers to flare or the jitters to kick in. Either way, you don’t want to push your kitchen staff into overdrive because this leads to fatigue in the long run, which is detrimental to productivity. Using red as an accent instead of the main color can provide just the right amount of energy to keep your workers alert all shift long. Using more subdued shades of red, such as burgundy or terracotta, may also provide a mellower effect.
Blue reminds people of the sea and sky. In the workplace, it creates a feeling of calmness and tranquility that allows people to think clearly and focus on a single task. Blue has the exact opposite effect of red, as blue slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. It may not be the best color to use for a busy, dynamic environment where staff need to make fast decisions, but there are commercial kitchens that may find good use for this cool, calming color.
Kitchens that use an assembly-line layout where staff are responsible for accomplishing one task at a time, such as pizzerias and sandwich shops, may benefit from using blue. Being exposed to the color can clear the mind of unhelpful thoughts and helps staff concentrate on what’s currently in front of them. Bear in mind, however, that using too much of the darker shades of blue, such as midnight blue or navy blue, can cause, well… the blues.
Yellow is a cheerful, optimistic color. It creates a fun, fresh environment that encourages creativity and expression. It may not the best color for workers on a production line, where you want them to focus on a single task, but chefs who make an effort to invent new dishes and reinvent old ones to keep attracting their customers will appreciate having a splash of yellow here and there in the kitchen.
Softer yellows such as yellow gold or butter yellow or earthier shades such as honey or amber, when used as accents, can bring just the right amount of stimulating energy to the kitchen. However, yellows that are too bright can also get your staff worked up and more prone to getting annoyed or frustrated. Too much yellow can also cause eye strain, which may lead to productivity-zapping headaches, migraines, and other health problems.
When you combine yellow and red, you create orange. Orange evokes the fun and exuberance of yellow and the boldness and vividness of red. Too much orange, however, can get your staff too fired up and distracted. As with yellow and red, orange is best used as an accent color to provide just enough excitement in the kitchen.
An abundance of green creates a soothing environment that can create calmness and reduce anxiety in the kitchen. People find the color green very pleasing to the eyes, so it’s a great color to use in commercial kitchens where employees have to work long hours into the night or during the weekends.
As with other colors, different shades of green can produce different results. Darker shades such as forest green or sea green have sedating effects, while brighter shades such as lime green or chartreuse have energizing effects. If you decide to paint your kitchen green, it’s best to choose a combination of light and dark shades for a balanced effect.