Which are the best restaurants for atmosphere and how do they create it?
A restaurant’s atmosphere sets the stage. It’s about more than just a dining room away from home. Food takes the spotlight as guests become its audience. Factors such as music, lighting, artwork and spacing combine to create comfort, intimacy and even romance.
“Atmosphere – it’s of the utmost importance. It’s very key. The lighting has to be right. And table settings have to as well. It’s about trying to space tables out nicely so you have that atmosphere no matter how busy you are,” says Scott Andrews, operations manager at hotel and restaurant Gidleigh Park.
The Devon destination received two stars as well as four forks and spoons for comfort in the 2014 Great Britain & Ireland Michelin Guide. He explains just how much thinking goes into dining room layouts.
“We try to ensure people aren’t sat on top of each other. They have a good amount of space between them. We need to look at that very carefully. If you have a large table in a dining room you want to make sure they’re away from others. We try not to put small tables in with large ones because they’d just get overpowered. There are so many elements you have to take into mind,” he says.
Artwork also plays a part. Paintings hang on the walls of Gidleigh Park as they do at many restaurants. Andrews says: “It sets the mood to portray to your guests. It also gives them a point of interest. There’s nothing worse than staring at a bare wall. You do need a focal point in any room but nothing too overpowering.”
Gidleigh Park’s architecture and surroundings provide the best art of all: its large dining room windows frame a view of the 109-acre garden. Outside’s greenery blends in with the interior wooden walls to match the color palette of the landscape. It takes advantage of its location in the Devon countryside.
That emphasis on nature also applies to Gidleigh Park’s treatment of sound. Andrews says the restaurant avoids music because it would otherwise overpower the three small dining rooms there. It instead allows natural noise from the space to provide that tune.
“Atmosphere comes from guests, their conversations, the clinking of glasses and cutlery. It’s a very relaxed environment. Our guests have always preferred not to have music. We’ve had a lot of comments on the positives,” he says.
The Square in London also avoids music. It has two Michelin stars and four forks and spoons for comfort much like Gidleigh Park. Matching interior brightness to outside light is another way for the restaurant to keep its atmosphere relaxed and natural.
General manager Nicolas Digard says: “We dim the lights as the night goes on. It starts quite bright but at the end of the night it’s very low. If night falls early, we dim the lights early. In the summer, we dim throughout the night to match the light outside.
“We don’t want the lights to be too bright for the customer. We just want the customer to feel relaxed and enjoy their meal. When it’s too bright it’s not enjoyable.”
But factors such as music, lighting and table layouts are only as important as the staff that make the restaurant work. Brett Graham, head chef at The Ledbury (pictured) in London, thinks personalizing service has been the key to his restaurant’s success.
“I want people to come here under all different, individual circumstances. That’s what I really try and put across to the staff. I try and get the staff to read what people may want on that particular service because the way you treat this table may be completely different to that table,” he says.
Gidleigh Park’s Scott Andrews agrees. “The main thing we do here at Gidleigh for atmosphere is the staff. We try to get that balance between professionalism and care and being attentive without being stiff and overbearing. We’re there when the guests need us, and when we’re not, we’re stood back keeping an eye,” he says.
Tailoring to a customer’s needs reverts to the same principle of keeping things natural. Service is not forced and neither is a vibrant atmosphere. These restaurants strive to make the dining experience as organic as possible. They enjoy the best atmosphere because they understand ambiance is merely harnessed.
Continue reading to find out about the best restaurants for atmosphere.
Getting into an elite college has never been more cutthroat. Last year, Harvard’s admissions rate dipped to a record low, with only 5.3% of applicants getting an acceptance letter. Stanford’s rate was even lower, at 5.05%.
These days, it takes more than impressive grades, a full roster of extracurriculars, and a deep commitment to community service to get into a well-ranked school. Experts say that a stellar essay is the linchpin that will win the admissions department over. But what is less well known is that different colleges favor particular topics and even specific words used in essays.
This is a key finding from AdmitSee, a startup that invites verified college students to share their application materials with potential applicants. High school students can pay to access AdmitSee’s repository of successful college essays, while college students who share their materials receive a small payment every time someone accesses their data. “The biggest differentiator for our site is that college students who share their information are compensated for their time,” Stephanie Shyu, cofounder of AdmitSee, tells Fast Company. “This allows them to monetize materials that they have sitting around. They can upload their file and when they check back in a few months later, they might have made several hundred dollars.”
Shyu says that this model has allowed AdmitSee to collect a lot of data very rapidly. The company is only a year old and just landed $1.5 million in seed funding from investors such asFounder.org and The Social + Capital Partnership. But in this short time, AdmitSee has already gathered 15,000 college essays in their system. Many are from people who got into well-ranked colleges, since they targeted these students first. The vast majority of these essays come from current college students who were admitted within the last two or three years.
AdmitSee has a team that analyzes all of these materials, gathering both qualitative and quantitative findings. And they’ve found some juicy insights about what different elite colleges are looking for in essays. One of the most striking differences was between successful Harvard and Stanford essays. (AdmitSee had 539 essays from Stanford and 393 from Harvard at the time of this interview, but more trickle in every day.) High-achieving high schoolers frequently apply to both schools—often with the very same essay—but there are stark differences between what their respective admissions departments seem to want.
What Do You Call Your Parents?
The terms “father” and “mother” appeared more frequently in successful Harvard essays, while the term “mom” and “dad” appeared more frequently in successful Stanford essays.
Harvard Likes Downer Essays
AdmitSee found that negative words tended to show up more on essays accepted to Harvard than essays accepted to Stanford. For example, Shyu says that “cancer,” “difficult,” “hard,” and “tough” appeared more frequently on Harvard essays, while “happy,” “passion,” “better,” and “improve” appeared more frequently in Stanford essays.
This also had to do with the content of the essays. At Harvard, admitted students tended to write about challenges they had overcome in their life or academic career, while Stanford tended to prefer creative personal stories, or essays about family background or issues that the student cares about. “Extrapolating from this qualitative data, it seems like Stanford is more interested in the student’s personality, while Harvard appears to be more interested in the student’s track record of accomplishment,” Shyu says.
With further linguistic analysis, AdmitSee found that the most common words on Harvard essays were “experience,” “society,” “world,” “success,” “opportunity.” At Stanford, they were “research,” “community,” “knowledge,” “future” and “skill.”
What the Other Ivies Care About
It turns out, Brown favors essays about volunteer and public interest work, while these topics rank low among successful Yale essays. In addition to Harvard, successful Princeton essays often tackle experiences with failure. Meanwhile, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania tend to accept students who write about their career aspirations. Essays about diversity—race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation—tend to be more popular at Stanford, Yale, and Brown.
Based on the AdmitSee’s data, Dartmouth and Columbia don’t appear to have strong biases toward particular essay topics. This means that essays on many subjects were seen favorably by the admissions departments at those schools. However, Shyu says that writing about a moment that changed the student’s life showed up frequently in essays of successful applicants to those schools.
Risk-Taking Pays Off
One general insight is that students who take risks with the content and the structure of their college essays tend to be more successful across the board. One student who was admitted to several top colleges wrote about his father’s addiction to pornography and another wrote about a grandparent who was incarcerated, forcing her mother to get food stamps illegally. Weird formats also tend to do well. One successful student wrote an essay tracking how his credit card was stolen, making each point of the credit card’s journey a separate section on the essay and analyzing what each transaction meant. Another’s essay was a list of her favorite books and focused on where each book was purchased.
“One of the big questions our users have is whether they should take a risk with their essay, writing about something that reveals very intimate details about themselves or that takes an unconventional format,” Shyu says. “What we’re finding is that successful essays are not ones that talk about an accomplishment or regurgitate that student’s résumé . The most compelling essays are those that touch on surprising personal topics.”
Of course, one caveat here is that taking a risk only makes sense if the essay is well-executed. Shyu says that the content and structure of the story must make a larger point about the applicant, otherwise it does not serve a purpose. And it goes without saying that the essay must be well-written, with careful attention paid to flow and style.
Shyu says that there are two major takeaways that can be taken from the company’s data. The first is that it is very valuable for applicants to tailor their essays for different schools, rather than perfecting one essay and using it to apply to every single school. The second is that these essays can offer insight into the culture of the school. “The essays of admitted students are also a reflection of the community at these institutions,” Shyu says. “It can provide insight into whether or not the school is a good fit for that student.”
A final tip? If you want to go to Harvard and write about your parents, make sure to address them as “mother” and “father.”