How the history of restaurant graphic design is influencing menu, logo, and web design choices today
Dining out isn’t just about what you eat, it’s a social experience, and the highly competitive world of hospitality calls for each restaurant to stand out through appearance and personality, as well as high-quality food. As customer tastes and expectations evolve, restaurant owners need to update their image in order to stay fresh and attract new customers.
A restaurant’s brand needs to give customers an idea of the experience they’ll have once they walk through the door. It should communicate a sense of the food, style, and atmosphere at the venue. Over the years, the way restaurants have used logos, website, and menu design to entice customers and communicate their brand identity has evolved with changes to the use of colour, typography, layout, and design. Here are some notable developments in the evolution of design used in branding restaurants over the last three decades:
Food fans were introduced to the era of celebrity chefs and ‘fancy’ combos. Gourmet pizzas became a craze, as well as anything covered in parsley, sun-dried tomatoes and truffles. Consumers were expanding their culinary palates and becoming more demanding about food, and designers responded by paying more attention to creating unique and identifiable branding for restaurants. With this food-revolution came the digital evolution where new programs allowed designers to overlap pictures, take text outside of traditional grid layouts, and pair adventurous food with experimental design.
The boom of the internet also introduced another new branding asset-websites. The rise of digital brought on new challenges for restaurateurs to stay relevant and engaging. The limited colour pallet was restrictive, and the shift away from hand-drawn typography forced designers to think of new creative ways to communicate brand personality on the screen rather than on a sign or the pages of a magazine.
The new millennium dawned with a heightened awareness of fast food’s perils and an explosion of health conscious restaurant goers. Food trends focused on raw foods and whole grain options, and there was a push to use design that represented fresh cooking and ingredients.
Unfortunately, across digital mediums, designers were still constricted by tight, squished layouts and oversized calls to action. Images were often framed in boxes and given a gloss finish while logos included drop shadows and bold 3D pop-out effects.
Although the restaurant industry was going through a major change in the early 2000s, design tools weren’t quite at a point where they could keep up with these trends. While there was a huge shift to organic, wholesome food, this wasn’t as heavily reflected in restaurant design and branding until the 2010s where new technologies allowed for new ways to create more customised branding.
Thick loaded pizzas have been replaced with artisan woodfired options, and kale and quinoa reign supreme. The restaurant industry is currently experiencing a shift towards farm-to-table service and fresh, organic produce that is stripping food back to the basics and consequently demanding more personalised branding and attention to detail.
Logos and typography tend to be minimalist, using crisp monochrome colour palettes that are evocative of white dinner plates. Online, it is all about high impact visual images. Background colours are toned down to ensure pictures ‘pop’ from the screen and because, these days, customers see branding on their mobile as regularly as a computer, it’s important that it can integrate easily with each medium. Much of the marketing material exemplifies the interior and exterior design of the restaurant. Everything from lights to menus now has a wider purpose for the brand and a sense of uniformity.
These days design is more about providing customers with a holistic experience that operates outside the traditional parameters of sitting down for a meal than in previous decades. Through effective branding, restaurants can tell a story and give customers a unique experience that sets them apart in such a fierce market.
Here are a few examples of how restaurant branding has evolved over the last 30 years:
Established in 1965 TGI Fridays finally embraced a fresh look in 2013. Remodelling the design of the brand was important to shift perceptions of the more clean eating conscious customers. Just as the menu entered into the modern age, with options for low-carb, low-fat, and gluten-free items, the restaurants generally adopted a more contemporary design to match. The revamped logo dropped the apostrophe and simplified the shape, while the typeface was better balanced on top of a richer, more organic red.
The Slanted Door
Award winning Vietnamese food restaurant The Slanted Door was opened in 1995 and chose to update its look after little more than 15 years. In growing from a small hole in the wall establishment to a renowned San Francisco hotspot, the whole brand has evolved to reflect its trendy identity. Designed by agency Manuel, the logo is described by the creators as being as modern and sophisticated as the restaurant’s food. The slanted line represents the name while also working to “convey the notion of connection,” which according to Manuel is an important value for the brand’s history and overall identity.
Expressive design will always give restaurants a chance to stand out from their competitors and communicate their personality. Luckily, there are more tools available to designers than ever before, making it easier to create unique branding that will satisfy the eyes as much as food satisfies the tastebuds. The right design elements will tantalise customers and give them a glimpse of what it’s like to eat at a restaurant or cafe so it’s important to be creative and keep up to date with the latest industry trends.