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Nov 30, 2011 03:47 PM

Why are some Parisian restaurants *really* brightly lit?

I love coming to Paris and I hate wasting a meal. When I read up on places I feel I learn a lot about the food and nothing about the ambiance. While the quality of the food is my priority, I have had experiences where I'm really excited to try a restaurant but when I walk in, I am shocked by the lack of ambiance. I gather there are laws requiring them to be energy efficient, and I applaud this. But I wonder why more restaurants don't do anything to enhance the atmosphere by dimming, adding candles or putting gels on the CF lights. Is there a way of finding out whether a restaurant is illuminated thoughtfully or if they just flick the switch on the florescent tubes?

Does the lighting bother anyone else? Does anyone have some tips for restaurants with great food and a bit of ambiance?

Some spots I like that have both:
- Septime
- Grazie
- Glou

Some spots that have offensive lighting:
- Brasserie Balzac (couldn't bring myself to sit in the lighting)
- Tan Dinh (love the food, will come back with sunglasses)
- Philou (great food, terribly bright spot lighting)


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  1. My real problem is when the lighting's too dark and you can hardly see what you're eating. Examples fail me right now and to be fair I haven't encountered that in Paris recently enough to remember. (Except for "Dans le noir" which is a cas particulier of course - creepy experience and food not very good.) For one thing, I love the lighting at Septime though I find that the corner near the garden window (round table) is a little bit too dark.

    A brightly lit dining-room is the trade mark of a French brasserie, I would even say it is consubstantial to its atmosphere, the Parisian brasserie being a creation from a time when electrical lighting was a new and exciting thing, and the feature has endured.

    I don't mind bright lighting as long as the "color temperature" is right; but it is true that having neons that hurt your eyes and make both the food and other people's faces look like they're past their sell-by date is not a pleasant thing.

    1. If you like the lighting at Septime, l suspect you will also like the lighting and seating, walls, general ambiance at Saturne.

      1. Considering the fact that old-fashioned tungsten-filament light bulbs are currently being phased out in Europe (the white-frosted kind are already gone, and the rest are headed for the door), there's really not going to be any alternative to adjusting your expectations, as fluorescent lighting will be more and more common.

        6 Replies
        1. re: sunshine842

          I don't understand that comment. The replacement fluorescent bulbs come in different wattages and are dimmable. The even new LED ones can also be adjusted. So new energy efficient lighting won't force a change.

          I always thought they turned the lights up so the tourists couldn't nick the cutlery....!

          1. re: PhilD

            Bright lights and excessive noise tends to encourage turnover; they learned this disgusting behavior from us. It works. The new bistro class needs multiple turns to make their financial targets.
            I forgot to mention the use of uncomfortable chairs as a part of this strategy. Nothing sneaky here; you want lower prices, multiple turns are the price you pay.

            1. re: Oakglen

              seats designed to induce multiple turns is nothing new - in Philadelphia of the ''50s a popular lunch chain had their counter stools designed by an orhthopedic surgeon to induce low back pain after 17 minutes - at 20 minutes the pain became, shall we say, a pain

            2. re: PhilD

              but fluorescent lighting (and halogen) has a more piercing light and a bluish tinge. Unpleasant, and now unavoidable.

              1. re: sunshine842

                Not all - they (including halogens) come in different color balances for different uses - including the newish bulbs. Even the old tubes have different colors - supermarkets use a pinker hue over meat counters to make the produce more attractive. But I do agree bad lighting is bad lighting if a owner uses the wrong light because they are cheap or lazy (or want bright for turnover) it will be bad - but it isn't the technology.

                1. re: PhilD

                  but at this point in time, the cheap and badly-colored far, far outnumber the acceptable.

          2. I was reminded of "Dan Le Noir" by your post, the place where one eats in total darkness. LOL. The staff is mostly blind folks, it's supposed to be quite a different experience. It's been open several years now, I suppose it's successful, although I've never been.

            One of my favorite places for ambience and subdued, almost 19th-century lighting with electric, is Le Dome du Marais, in the 4th. The food is great, too.

            2 Replies
            1. re: menton1

              I went to "Dans le Noir" once (I don't think anybody goes twice so I twonder how well they're actually doing) but if I can't recommend the experience, it's not because of the total darkness (unpleasant but you know that's what's going to happen when you reserve) or even because of the so-so food, but because of the atmosphere. Diners feel stressed and uneasy but won't admit it, so that translates into a lot of loud talking and an ominous atmosphere created by all those fearful vibes around you. You can't be out of that soon enough.

              1. re: Ptipois

                Interesting, thanks for the info, Ptipois. Any ideas of going to that place are now quashed. I'll stick with lower-lighted places like Le Dome du Marais! :)