Yesterday I highlighted what I consider to be the worst restaurant chain logos in the US and the reasons why. Today I want to highlight the nation’s best restaurant chain logos and what makes them so great.
Before hopping into the designs, it makes sense to review criteria. Design can be extremely subjective when in reality “good design” is actually quite objective. This isn’t about what I personally like or dislike. It’s about creating work that visually communicates effectively. Logos that visually communicate effectively have a number of characteristics.
1. Simplicity. Overall, well designed logos adhere to a rule: Maximum meaning, minimal means. The reason is that a logo must convey a feeling as quickly as possible. Complex logos take very long for the brain to process when compared to their simpler counterparts. Therefore, the cleaner and simpler the logo, the faster it will be recognized and remembered.
2. Unique Color. Color is the the first thing the brain interprets. Owning a unique color for a brand is invaluable for awareness and recognition. Not only does color separate one brand from another, it also sets a tone and a feeling. Subdued colors are calming. Bright colors are invigorating. Some colors promote hunger. Other colors suppress it.
3. Simple, Unique Graphic. Graphic elements are recognized second to color. A strong graphic is simple, but poignant. It should be clearly interpreted visually. It should be unique to the brand so it’s not confused with other brands and their offerings. It doesn’t have to be literal, just unique, but literal often times strengthens a correlation to the food in the restaurant world.
4. Readable, Unique Type. The readability of the words is all about excellent typography. They should be strong and bold enough to be seen from far away, but not too overpowering where they take away from an accompanying mark. The typography should be unique to the brand setting a tone and vibe. Rather than using an out of the box font found on a computer, successful brands invest in the design of their very own type families. The subtle uniqueness of their typography creates an experience they can own and a visual look that’s truly unique.
To recap, an excellent logo should be simple, have unique a color palette, graphic and typography. Here are the top restaurant chain logos that define design excellence in alphabetical order.
The Top 10 Best Restaurant Logo Designs
I’m thinking Arby’s has an excellent thing going on despite their bout of schizophrenia over their logo treatment. The latest rendition perfectly bridges the old look into the new without losing their brand’s vibe. The red hat is iconic and unique, the typography easy to read and also unique to the Arby’s brand. The color works well to stand out enough. Although red is saturated in the restaurant industry, this still holds strong.
The BWW or B-Dub as I lovingly call it has an excellent logo that speaks perfectly to their market: Sports-loving, wing-grubbing, beer-guzzling super fans. The rendering of the flying buffalo is reminiscent of sport logo design styles without being too overdone. The bright yellow pops against the black and white elements making it easy to interpret. What’s even better is the brandmark stands on its own and doesn’t require the brandtype to accompany in order for someone to recognize the restaurant.
Caribou Coffee is a challenger brand and they’re doing a great job of staying true to their roots. They’re the more mountaineer-y coffee company opposed to Starbucks’ uber contemporary experience. What’s excellent about this brand logo design is the simplicity of the mark and it’s meaning. It visually reads “caribou coffee” by melding the coffee bean and illustrated caribou. It also has a subliminal “C” letterform making it a homerun. The brand typography marries with the mark excellently establishing a unique look and feel. Finally the color palette is unique to the industry in general giving Caribou the chance at brand ownership.
The recently socially turbulent Chick-Fil-A may not be everyone’s favorite, but their logo is fantastic. The unique, bespoke typeface is iconic to the brand. The “C” letterform, brandmark combination is on point. It even stands on its own as a brandmark making for a quickly, easily recognizable identity for this chicken restaurant. The mark combines the “C” and a “chicken” naturally giving the design context and a bit of wit.
Domino’s has been intelligently evolving their brand identity over their brand life. Their latest move forward pushes the brand into an iconoclastic level with the simplified domino mark. The mark stands on its own as an easily recognizable design and beacon of pizza. What’s great is they don’t even have to show a pizza in the design. The domino is synonymous with the offering. The color combination is unique and easy owned by the brand. The type treatment is easily interpreted visually and unique to the brand as well.
American runs on Dunkin and there’s a reason why: They have one of the most unique and recognizeable color palettes in the world. You don’t even have to see the words to know it’s Dunkin Donuts. I purposely left out their brand mark as I think it devalues the design and a lot of locations use the brandtype as the logo anyway. The typography is fat and fluffy just like the product proving that a logo doesn’t have to be so literal in order to convey a brand vibe.
McDonald’s may be the most recognizable brand in the world. The reason is simple: The Golden Arches. This “M” letterform created by a bent french fry has been a beacon of hunger and indulgence for decades. The golden arches no longer requires the brand name accompaniment to be recognized and understood. Sure this is due to the brand’s frequency and reach, but frequency and reach alone won’t make a logo as recognizable as this. I hope they never touch this design. It’s perfect.
Every design has to love the evolution of the Starbucks logo. It’s been a rapid evolution from an over illustrated mermaid with circular borders and type to a streamlined green mermaid and complete brand dominance. They own that color green wholly and the mermaid is quickly recognized. Starbucks dominates branding across the board. They live it and their design portrays it naturally and easily. The name is no longer needed. Everyone knows it’s a Starbucks with one simple graphic.
Say what you will about Taco Bell, but their identity is excellent. It’s bright and unique across the board. The simplified bell graphic is quickly seen while driving. The brandtype is unique to Taco Bell with its chubby, fast-feeling letterforms. It says “you’ll get it quick and you’ll be full.” The color palette was debated by designers when it was released to the world, but it’s brilliant and here’s why: First, it’s completely different from the competition. Second, it says “late night” without having to shove it in your face. Do you see a moon? I do. Finally the literal bell graphic sets the stage for dropping the brand name all together.
Surprised, aren’t you? You shouldn’t be. No matter what your feelings (or mine) may be on the offering, the TGI Fridays logo is on point. They own the red and white stripes; love them or hate them. Their movement towards a cleaner look is the right direction as well. I see this brand eventually landing on a big, thick “TGIF” sooner than later as well. The TGI Fridays brand identity hasn’t been the issue and it has earned the right to be in the top 10 for uniqueness and ease of recognition.
Finally, we have Wendy’s. I love what Wendy’s has done with their brand. They moved it forward into the future without losing their roots. That’s a hard feat to accomplish successfully. The sexy new script typography marries nicely with the updated illustration of Wendy herself. Speaking of Wendy, she’s gotten a makeover and one that was much needed. Her cleaner design makes her face even more iconic while adding in some subliminal messaging (do you see the “MOM” in the collar?) Wendy can easily stand as the brand without the brandname supporting it. It’s that good.
These restaurant logos were so close to making the top 10, but for certain reasons I couldn’t oust the logos listed above. Here they are with a description of why they’re great and why they didn’t quite make it.
Baskin Robbins was also super close to making the list. The typography, graphic and color palette are spot on with their design and execution. Who doesn’t love the “31” nestled in the BR insignia. I just think the “BR” isn’t enough of a graphic to be iconic; it’s still just two letters and/or numbers. Furthermore, the brandtype is all lowercase, but the insignia is capitalized creating a bit of a disconnect graphically. There’s not enough meaning in the design to really send home the brand. It’s good, but not good enough to be top ten.
Boston Market redesigned their brand by simplifying their initial logo design. It’s a great rebrand and I wanted to have it in the top. It was just missing one more element. The shape nor the color palette aren’t quite unique enough, and there’s no defining graphic that Boston Market could eventually own and make the defining brandmark.
You know Chipotle had to make the list in some way. They’re brand is a playbook for how to operate, market and be more than just a restaurant. Chipotle is a lifestyle brand that happens to make mexican food. The reason it didn’t make the cut is because the logo is just a little too complicated compared to the logos selected. They’re on their way to brand ownership with that quirky pepper. I think their next move forward will see them inch even closer to owning the Chipotle pepper graphic.
Subway has a unique color palette that they completely own. The brand is excellent for the most part, but there are some areas where it could/should improve and that’s what kept it out of the top 10 for me. The typography is good, but could be a little thicker for readability. Secondly the arrow pointing away from the “Y” formation is poorly executed. It looks forced. The “Y” form could use some smoothing out in general which would make the curve more natural.
Finally, the last runner up is Qdoba. Another challenger brand to Chipotle, this mexican grill has a saucy typographic design that I can’t help but love. It didn’t make the cut because there is a rendition of their logo that includes a cactus graphic that I think it just too disconnected. The giant “Q” letterform has potential to be a brand icon on the level of the Arby’s hat, Chick Fil A “C”, and McDonald’s “M.” They just have to do something with it and send it home.
What do you think of the list? Have other restaurant logo designs you think should be included in the runner’s up? Maybe in the top 10? Please comment below. I’d love to hear your input. Remember, this isn’t about liking or disliking the brand, offering, or design. It’s about being objective and answering: Is it good design?
Thanks for reading.