The Psychology of Colour in hospitality spaces


Karen Haller is one of the UK’s leading authorities in applied colour psychology, specialising in business branding and business interiors.

In this Q&A, she provides an overview of her work, and some tips on how colour, and the psychological effect it has on people, can affect a business and ultimately, sales or profits.


Firstly, a quick introduction to the psychology of colour – to what extent does the colour of a space affect the way we feel?

Colour has an effect on our mind, body and emotions. It affects our moods and can influence our behaviours and our physical and mental well-being. This will usually be happening on an unconscious level.

Why would this be important in hospitality environments such as hotels, restaurants or bars?

One of the main factors in deciding on where to go for a meal, a drink or somewhere to stay will be on how we want to feel, for example uplifted, relaxing, peace and quiet or playful.  Colour triggers emotional responses.

The last thing a business would want to be doing unconsciously is using colour and combinations of colour that result in giving their customers an experience that ends up driving them away.

A successful business will have a clearly defined brand personality. There will be colours, and more importantly tones of colours, along with a design style, that projects the brand personality and in turn will attract the right type of clientele. They will know exactly how they will feel and the level of service they will receive. You wouldn’t expect to walk into an elegant, refined, high end establishment such as The Ritz to see it designed using hip funky colours and wacky furniture with waiters on roller skates.

London, England | Claridge's Lobby

– the refined lobby of Claridge’s

I’m sure that has a large bearing on how a customer feels (and spends!) in a hospitality industry environment?

This could make or break them. Not being clear on who they are (the brand personality), on the level of service they offer and being able to clearly and consistently show this whether it be their interiors, standard of service, their website through to their marketing literature.

Confuse the customer as to what service is on offer, or trying to be everything to everyone, and  they’ll just stay away.

Is there a typical colour scheme for a restaurant, or does it vary according to what the space is trying to achieve?

This is down to the personality of the restaurant. For example, are they aimed at children, a traditional ‘gentleman’s club’, elegant fine dining or maybe minimalist, cutting edge. Each has a clear personality aimed at a different clientele and the colours and design would reflect this.

–the blue ceiling in this American diner would not be recommended to stimulate hungry customers

The colour you would least likely see in a restaurant or food establishment would be blue. Psychologically, blue is the colour of the mind and while you are effectively ‘in your head’, you are not thinking about your stomach – it’s suppressing your appetite. Whilst blue may be the world’s most popular colour, it’s one of the least appetising. Clearly not a good colour for food-related businesses.

On the other hand, red is the colour of excitement, energy – it stimulates. Orange also stimulates; the appetite, the digestive system and conversation.  You will have noticed the frequent use of red tablecloths in Chinese restaurants. Symbolically for the Chinese culture, it represents good luck and fortune.


I looked for images of red cafe interiors and found the vibrant, stimulating canteen above, designed by Verner Panton, for creative publisher Spiegel, in Hamburg. When Der Spiegel relocated to new offices, it was dismantled and preserved in a museum as a design and cultural icon. Interestingly though,  “Spiegel” editors and employees were rather reluctant to spend their lunch breaks at the time, and Karen agrees:

Wow – this is a great example of how even when using the right colour, if it is not used in the right proportion, can be so overwhelming. You would not be able to spend long in here if at all before you started to feel the negative effects of red and yellow – over stimulated and irritated at the very least. How would you even be able to see the colour of your food?

Bars can vary quite widely in the experience they offer- from cool and calm to vibrant and exciting.

Absolutely right. Again it’s down to the personality of the bar (the business brand). What atmosphere and mood does the owner want to create, how do they want their clientele to feel.  Colour playing a major role.

Time to Unwind @ Earshot Cafe – The Arts House, Singapore

–a relaxed scheme to unwind in, Earshot cafe-bookstore, Singapore

Going beyond colour, do you get involved in recommending materials at all, such as bright polished chrome or dark woods for schemes?

A part of the work I do when creating a scheme for a business interior is to firstly establish its personality. From this I’m able to recommend the colours, lighting, furniture, fabrics, artwork, surface finishes, etc – in the right proportion and placement – that reflect the personality.  I fully believe in designing to reflect the brand personality, not make it an extension of mine.

Follow Karen on twitter @KarenHaller
facebook: Karen Haller Colour & Design

Karen has also contributed a chapter to Colour design: Theories and applications, published by Woodhead.

Please note– photos are for illustrative purposes only and are not specific project examples of Karen’s work.

© Copyright Karen Haller / 2012


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One Response to “The Psychology of Colour in hospitality spaces”

  1. guest blog posts & mentions | Karen Haller | Blog | Karen Haller Colour & Design Consultancy is based in West London, UK, working with businesses and private clients on their branding, personal and interior colours & design, specialising in Ap Says:

    […] Interior Design the psychology of colour in hospitality spaces […]

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