Commercial Restaurant Kitchen Lighting Design for 2020

There is a science to modern kitchen lighting in a restaurant or commercial kitchen design. And at the same time, kitchen design can be an art.

Fortunately, the art and science of industrial kitchen design blend together. But what are the parameters of great restaurant kitchen lighting design? How do you meet codes, keep workflow at its most efficient maximum, and build a sleek kitchen?

We’re going to give you the tools to keep this balance and design a beautiful workspace for your restaurant employees.

1. Food Code Lighting Requirements – Commercial Restaurant Kitchen Lighting Design for 2020

Lighting requirements are actually a pretty small section of the FDA Food Code. The code centers around light intensity.

This code exists mainly for the safety of the workers in the kitchen. And it’s meant to facilitate cleaning.

Employees need to both see what they’re doing and see whether a surface or space is actually clean or not. These tie into safety and cleanliness.

Commercial Restaurant Kitchen Lighting Design for 2020

Walk-In Unit Lighting

Above floors and walk-in refrigeration units and dry food storage area, the requirement is that lights sit at a distance of 30 inches above the floor and provide 110 lux of intensity.

Sale Areas

If your kitchen is open and connected to a sale area such as a buffet line, the sale area needs specific lighting as well. In these areas, the code requires an intensity of 220 lux.

Washing Areas

This standard also applies to hand washing, ware washing, utensil and equipment storage areas and toilets. And it applies to reach-in areas and under counter refrigerators. The height requirement is 30 inches above the floor in these areas.

Food Prep Areas

The most intense lighting requirement is in the food prep areas of the kitchen and areas where employees might be working with dangerous equipment. Dangerous equipment includes knives, grinders, saws, etc. And where an employee is preparing food.

The code specifies a 540 lux light intensity in these areas. And basically, if you can’t properly see it, it’s not clean or safe.

Basic Safety Requirements

As you can see, the Food Code does not cover much in the way of lighting design. It’s a basic safety requirement, nothing more. And if you’re looking for quality lighting design, the FDA is not the place to go for advice.

For the rest of this article, we’re going to talk about how you can design your modern kitchen lighting with quality and safety in mind.

2. The Science Behind Modern Kitchen Lighting – Commercial Restaurant Kitchen Lighting Design for 2020

When you walk into a classy restaurant, the lighting is always perfect. It sets the mood. It shows off the food. It gives just enough light to see people to and from their tables.

Restaurant owners put a lot of time and attention into the customer areas of their restaurant. And for good reason. The customer brings the money.

Commercial Restaurant Kitchen Lighting Design for 2020 - 2

But when you walk through those black swinging doors at the back of the restaurant you’ll see a different story.

Lighting conditions in most restaurant kitchens are obviously designed to just meet minimum food code standards.

But there is so much more to modern kitchen lighting than a government code. And there is an actual science behind keeping your employees alert, happy, and safe in their native environment.

If you design your modern kitchen lighting with this in mind, your restaurant or food service business will run ten times more smoothly. And happy and alert employees mean better service for your customers.

Color Rendering Index

Food prep, especially in higher end restaurants is an art. The color is extremely important because the presentation is extremely important.

If you’re not serving slop to your customers, you want the best lighting for your chefs and workers as they design each plate of food. If they can’t identify the colors in the food correctly, they won’t output a finished product.

This is where the Color Rendering Index or CRI comes in.

The kind of light shed on food changes its color. And the CRI is a measurement of the light’s ability to show an object’s colors naturally or realistically. This is in reference to a source like daylight.

The CRI of your modern kitchen lighting is important. Most fluorescent lamps have a CRI of 62 out of 100.

But the better the CRI value, the more realistic food colors will appear to your workers.


There is more to food prep safety and sanitation than just light intensity. You need to minimize glare and increase contrast in the environment.

Your workers need to quickly identify objects in their workspace. And the brightness of their immediate workspace compared to the objects in that workspace is important.

So, using directional and accent lighting to reduce glare and increase contrast is always a good idea in modern kitchen lighting.


This is the intensity per square area of light from a source or surface reflection. Therefore, you need to take into consideration the reflective surfaces in your kitchen.

If glare from overhead lights is causing glare off of reflective surfaces, you might need to add other lighting and reduce overhead lighting to reduce glare.

3. The Goals Of Modern Kitchen Lighting – Commercial Restaurant Kitchen Lighting Design for 2020

When considering how to design modern kitchen lighting in your commercial or restaurant kitchen, you need to set out some goals beforehand.

Of course, the first goal should be safety. You might think it’s “follow food code,” but that will be incorporated into your goal of safety.

Safety doesn’t always mean physical safety. When your employees are comfortable in their environment, they will feel safe and act safely.

Your second goal, which ties into safety, is optimized visibility. The distribution of light sources is important in this category as well as the intensity.

You want to increase CRI, decrease glare, and increase contrast.

You also want to light people’s way through the kitchen. This includes the ingress and egress between kitchen and restaurant. Well designed modern kitchen lighting allows your employee’s eyes to adjust quickly to both environments.

The last goal should be to minimize operating costs.

LED lights are becoming increasingly popular in all areas of lighting. These lights can save your business 75% of kitchen energy costs.