How Restaurants Think About Holiday Decorations

A longtime restaurateur reflects on decking the halls of the dining room.

'Tis the season for restaurant owners and staffs to transform ordinary eateries into festive wonderlands, as the enchanting embrace of holiday decorations takes over restaurants worldwide. The spectrum decor ranges from understated elegance to unapologetically over-the-top displays—and each approach leaves a distinct imprint on the dining experience.

In the 23 years at my namesake restaurant, I always put up a tree that could be seen from the front door but not from the dining room. I wanted the holiday warmth to greet the guests, but then not distract from the INA'S experience. Many times as they were leaving, they would make a detour to see the tree up close. I loved that.

As restaurateurs, we must make decisions about how we want to mark the holiday season. For some, a subtle touch of seasonal decor suffices: a sprig of holly here, a string of twinkling lights there. These embellishments evoke a sense of warmth without overwhelming the senses, allowing patrons to enjoy their meals while indulging a bit in the holiday spirit.

On the flip side, there are establishments that choose to fully embrace the yuletide fervor, turning every nook and cranny into a visual feast. While the intention is to create a festive atmosphere for patrons, there's a fine line between joyful celebration and sensory overload. Too much glitter, an excess of tinsel, and an onslaught of Christmas tunes might inadvertently create a cacophony that distracts diners rather than immersing them in holiday cheer.

Indeed, the psychological impact of excessive decorations cannot be understated. Research suggests that an overload of stimuli (visual, auditory, or otherwise), even pleasant stimuli, can lead to fatigue and decreased enjoyment. Striking a balance is therefore crucial: a harmonious blend of festive elements that enhance rather than overpower the dining experience.

As for the timing of when to deck those halls, opinions among restaurateurs vary. Some argue for an early start to the holiday season, the logic being that spotting the decorations as soon as mid-November heightens diners' anticipation and prolong the holiday spirit. Others adhere to the traditional post-Thanksgiving kickoff, ensuring that the holiday magic unfolds in due time, without the novelty wearing thin. Conversely, the question of when to dismantle the decor sparks debates as well, but most of us agree that it's best when all those nutcrackers and gingerbread men don't overstay their welcome.

In the realm of restaurant decorations, the art lies in the delicate dance between festive exuberance and mindful restraint. After all, 'tis the season to eat, drink, and be merry, savoring both the cuisine and the celebration in equal measure. However your favorite restaurant spruces itself up for the holidays, you can rest assured that a good amount of thought has been put into it.