Restaurants using the power of color

As I walked through the recently remodeled McDonald’s in South Carson City, I began to reflect on color themes throughout the generations. At my age, I’ve seen color palettes come and go, then come into vogue again to enthrall a new generation but creating a ho-hum from those of us who have lived through several reiterations of color themes chosen by those who make their monies selling paint.

It seems every decade or so, a new color palette is introduced to reflect the times. The more enduring red and yellow interiors of many fast-food chains are changing to reflect the more utilitarian gray and white theme as seen in today’s McDonald’s to coincide with the change in consumer tastes, hoping to attract those who prefer fast-food in a clean, sleek, no-frills, and decidedly more modern setting.

The utilitarian theme is working in many of the newer chains preferred by Millennials — you know, the generation now calling the shots once called by the older Boomers. Think Chipotle, Qdoba, Starbucks. Nothing warm and fuzzy about these restaurants. Even newer restaurants are sparing comfort and cozy booths preferred by the older Boomers in favor of hard chairs, no tablecloths, hard surfaces, and community tables. Some of our better-known restaurants, too, have changed their once softer look hoping to attract the younger crowd.

While the exterior and interior of the eternally favorite fast-food chains may change to reflect the ruling generation, note their logo color has not changed and hasn’t since the ‘50s or earlier. There’s a reason why the original color the most familiar fast-food chains continue to use in their iconic logos is red and yellow.

Somewhere along the line, color psychologists deemed red to subconsciously stimulate appetite. Yellow was said to trigger feelings of happiness and friendliness, thus when you see a red and yellow sign, you immediately get hungry and know if you stop you will soon be served in a friendly atmosphere and leave satisfied and happy.

Millions of dollars have been spent on color research for logos by many chains, and the yellow and red came out the winner in many national chain logos including McDonald’s, Burger King, In and Out Burger, Chick-fil-A, Arby’s, Dairy Queen, Five Guys, Carl’s Jr., Pizza Hut, Jack-in-the Box, Sonic and more. Check out the logo color of your favorite fast food chain and it is sure to contain one or more of these colors.

The psychologists must have been right. McDonald’s has served “billions and billions” of hamburgers since the chain first opened April 15, 1955 in Des Plaines, Illinois. Chick-fil-A has been around since 1946; Jack-in-the Box started in 1951 and Dairy Queen has served tons of ice cream and more since 1940.

Millennials love the color black, thus chains wishing to attract this generation are using black in their logos. Qdoba, has adopted somewhat of a red/yellow palette preferring orange — a combination of red and yellow — and black. Chipotle uses a deeper red and black. The Buffalo Wild Wings logo is yellow and black. The black denotes sophistication. Thus, it’s cool to be seen at these fast-food chains by those who spurn the chains preferred by earlier generations.

Millennials — many of whom are immigrants — seem to prefer spicy foods and feel good about the word “fresh.” That is the marketing strategy of the newer chains: Chipotle — opened in 1993 — and Qdoba — opened in 1995. The first wave of Millennials was born in 1981.

McDonald’s continually changes their menus to reflect current tastes, recently introducing the Sriracha Big Mac using fresh beef patties and the opportunity to customize burgers to Millennial tastes. Thus, fresh and spicy has been introduced along with ordering on electronic kiosks and having servers deliver meals to the table. But, fresh comes with a wait time and time will tell whether anyone accustomed to immediate gratification will wait 10 minutes for a fresh burger at a fast-food restaurant.

The study of colors used by restaurants to attract customers is truly fascinating. Green is said to indicate freshness and being at one with the environment. Think Starbucks, Chili’s, Subway and Whole Foods, though not many restaurants use this color in their logos.

Do red napkins or tablecloths affect your appetite? Will the gray and white utilitarian look create the feeling you are eating fresh? Does black make you feel you are dining in a sophisticated establishment? Will yellow make you feel happy and secure while eating? The psychology of color is truly fascinating.

Enjoy eating at our current restaurants and the new ones soon to be open. Be sure to note the colors used in their logos.


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