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This summer, add extra sparkle and magic to your restaurant, bar, or café’s outdoor dining space with a new string light installation. Their gentle glow encourages carefree joy, making a summer night under the stars feel like a truly complete moment.

In this article, we cover the psychology behind string lighting, discuss how to choose the best lights for your venue, go over installation and maintenance basics, provide safety tips, and share design ideas to get you started. 

The Psychology of String Lights

String lights resembling stars and moons.

Much like Scandinavian hygge designs that cultivate a cozy winter, string light aesthetics bathe summer in a warm, inviting light. Here’s a breakdown of the psychological factors at play.

Mimicry of Firelight

Like candles, string lights touch upon our primal bond with fire as a source of warmth, light, and safety. With their flickering points of illumination, string lights subconsciously evoke a feeling of comfort and security. Their gentle glow resonates with a deep-seated human need to gather in a safe haven, once represented by fire during our earlier stages of evolution.

Chromotherapy & Color Psychology

Revisiting color psychology, the color temperature and type of bulbs used in string lights significantly impact the mood they create:

  • Warm white bulbs, reminiscent of firelight, promote feelings of relaxation and peace.
  • Warm tones like yellow or orange can stimulate feelings of happiness and sociability.
  • Cool white or blue hues might enhance alertness and focus in specific areas.
  • Colored bulbs can introduce a playful, artful, or festive atmosphere.

Nostalgia & Dopamine

String lights are often associated with positive memories and celebrations. They might evoke childhood memories of quaint backyard parties, holiday gatherings, or cozy nights spent under a canopy of twinkling stars.

This type of pleasant nostalgia is impactful to businesses because it catalyzes the release of dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Dopamine creates a positive emotional response that keep your guests returning to their favorite summer spot.

Intimacy & Ambiance

String lights, by their nature, create a softer, more diffused light than overhead fixtures. This reduction in harsh light allows for a more intimate atmosphere. Dimmer switches further enhance this effect, enabling the creation of a cozy and inviting ambiance that encourages thoughtful conversation and connection.

But first, you’ll have to choose the right lights for your outdoor setting.

Choosing the Right String Lights

Blurry string lights.

Next, we’ll go over the basic types of string light styles and provide the pros and cons of LED vs. incandescent bulbs.

Edison-Style Bulbs 

Edison bulb string lights feature incandescent or LED bulbs with exposed filaments that resemble the original design of a light bulb. These vintage-looking bulbs transform a space by casting an inviting glow complete with a retro or industrial mood.

Fairy Lights 

Magical and whimsical, fairy lights are small, closely spaced lights ideal for a dreamy, artsy, or romantic atmosphere. Fairy lights are flexible and can be easily draped over branches, fences, or wrapped around large objects like gazebos.

Festoon Lights

This type of string light uses larger bulbs spaced further apart than fairy or Edison-style lights. Festoons were originally ribbons or swags of flowers or leaves used for decoration in ancient Greece and Rome. However, the term has evolved to describe various decorative hangings. With warm and welcoming festoon string lights, it’s easy to create festive, upbeat, and cheerful nighttime vibes for your restaurant or bar.

Globe Lights

Globe lights produce a soft, diffused light that’s easy on the eyes, and come in various sizes and materials. Glass globes can create a more elegant look, while plastic is more shatterproof and budget-friendly. In terms of beauty and appearance, globe lighting is also the most flattering light for our guests.

Bulb Type: LED vs. Incandescent

The next step is to choose whether your establishment’s outdoor dining area would benefit from incandescent lighting or LED lighting. Basically, it comes down to cost, brightness, ambiance, durability, maintenance requirements, and sustainability.


The initial investment costs of LED lights are typically higher than incandescent lights. However, there’s a tradeoff — LED lights are significantly more energy-efficient than incandescent lights, leading to lower electricity bills over time.

Brightness & Ambiance

Incandescent lights generally offer a warmer, more traditional light. LED lights come in a variety of color temperatures, allowing you to choose a warm white that mimics incandescent or a cooler white for a more modern look. LEDs can also be color-changing and dimmable, allowing you to control the ambiance.

Durability & Maintenance

Incandescent bulbs are fragile and prone to breakage, especially outdoors. They also have a shorter lifespan. On the other hand, LED lights are much more durable and shatter-resistant. They also have a lifespan that is many times longer than incandescent bulbs, reducing the need for frequent replacements.


Both commercial incandescent and LED string lights can be rated for outdoor use. However, it’s important to choose lights with a weatherproof rating suitable for your climate by checking their IP rating. This international standard indicates how protected the electrical components are from dust and water. For commercial outdoor lights, we recommend an IP rating of at least 44.


If you run an eco-minded business that values sustainability, LED string lights are the better option. They use significantly less energy than incandescent lights, which on a large scale translates to a reduced demand on power plants, lowering greenhouse gas emissions. As we previously mentioned, LED lights also have a long lifespan which reduces the amount of landfill bulb waste.

Shining Bright: Installation & Maintenance Tips for String Lights in Outdoor Dining Spaces

String lights and a sunset.

But before you start weaving a canopy of twinkling lights, please take these planning, safety, and maintenance tips into consideration. 

Planning Your Outdoor Dining Illumination Layout

The first step is to envision the ambience you want to create. Do you want a blanket of overhead lights, or strings draped from tree branches for a more natural feel? Perhaps you have a walkway that would benefit from welcoming lights or a path that could use illumination.

Once you’ve decided on a layout, measure your space carefully and determine how many strings of lights will be needed. Sketch a basic layout to ensure even light distribution and consider where the power source will be located.

Safety First

Safety is always paramount in the foodservice industry and string lights are no exception. For best practices:

  • Always use commercial outdoor-rated string lights designed for year-round weather exposure.
  • Check for any damaged cords or loose sockets before installation.
  • When hanging lights, choose appropriate hanging methods based on the surface you’re attaching to. For example, use screw eyes and hooks for sturdy materials like wood, and opt for zip ties or weatherproof clips for fences or wires.
  • Remember to avoid overloading electrical outlets and consider using a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlet for added protection.

Replacing Bulbs & Cleaning Lights

Throughout the warm weather season, keep an eye on your string lights and replace any burned-out bulbs promptly to maintain a consistent look and prevent electrical strain on the remaining bulbs.

Dust and grime buildup can also dim the sparkle of your lights. For a quick refresh, make sure everything is unplugged and wipe down the string lights with a damp cloth.

Off-Season Storage

Once the season ends, take down your string lights carefully. Coil them loosely to prevent tangles and store them in a dry, protected location. A plastic storage bin works well, keeping them dust-free and ready to illuminate your outdoor space again next season.

Design Ideas for Patios, Rooftops, Sidewalks, and Gardens

Lighting design with trees.

To get you started, here are some ideas for using string lighting in different outdoor areas. Just as creative chalkboard signage adds color and personality to an establishment, this could also be an ideal opportunity to hand the reins over to your most creative employees and allow their artistic abilities to shine.

Always check with local building and fire codes to ensure your lighting setup complies with safety regulations. This may involve permit requirements, fixture placement limitations, and minimum heights above walkways.


Create a glowing canopy by draping string lights overhead and across your restaurant or bar’s patio. This can be accomplished with a simple grid pattern or something more whimsical like waves. Fairy lights will create a romantic ambiance, while Edison bulbs will provide a more industrial feel.

To utilize the objects around you, add them to the edges of patio umbrellas for a unique and functional source of light.

Rooftop Dining

If your rooftop is on the petite side, try creating curtains of light by hanging strings vertically along fences, walls, or even the perimeter to create an enchanting and fun backdrop. You can use color-changing lights to create a dynamic effect, or keep it simple with warm white lights.

String lights can also be used to draw attention to specific features on your rooftop, like a pergola.


Use string lights to illuminate the natural beauty of the outdoors. If your restaurant or bar’s space contains beautiful trees, you could wrap lights around their trunks and branches to achieve an enchanted forest look. The same applies to garden statues, gazebos, or water features. If you have a sizeable walkway out to the backyard, it’s always nice to illuminate the path forward.

If you have a large outdoor space for hosting events, strategic string light design can transform an open space into a collection of smaller, more intimate areas, perfect for social gatherings.


Stringing lights along walkways will create a charming and welcoming entry to your restaurant or bar’s outdoor dining space. Ensure they are high enough to provide clearance for pedestrians and meet any code requirements. Always check local regulations, especially if your sidewalk has heavy foot traffic.

String Lights for Tables

String lights can also be used for tabletop ambiance. Fairy lights in mason jars placed on each table is an charming alternative to candles.

Light the Way

Cascading lights.

With careful planning and consideration of safety and weatherproofing, string lights transform any outdoor space into a warm and inviting haven. For operators already using these simple, aesthetic light sources, do you have any tips for a smooth installation or design creation?  Let us know in the comment section!

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