North Texas Daily

Modernizing fast food restaurants is a step in the wrong direction

Modernizing fast food restaurants is a step in the wrong direction

Modernizing fast food restaurants is a step in the wrong direction
October 22
11:00 2022

In recent years, fast food companies have pushed for the modernization of their exteriors. As they do away with image to appeal to a new age of consumers, what do companies like McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King lose? Prominent and defining characteristics differentiated fast food companies, but those original identities are quickly fading.

Brightly colored restaurant designs are now being replaced with rigid and monochromatic aesthetics. The age of quirky and unique exteriors and interiors is over as companies embrace “modernized architecture” and “bold” designs to stay alive in a modernized world.

The fast food designs of today are noticeably different from their ‘80s and ‘90s counterparts. For McDonald’s, their once red and white mansard roof with painted brick has been replaced by flat roofs with golden curves. Sleek, clean and modern interiors with wooden paneling and soft lighting reign as the company seeks to reinvent itself to appear as something other than a fast food joint. 

A faux five-star restaurant — what fast food chains hope to offer with their sleek redesign. Drive-thru eateries may try to be space for “real” food, but they fail in the areas that matter. Chick-Fil-A, Arby’s and Wendy’s and other fast food restaurants change everything but how they make their food.

Fast food companies know exactly what they are doing when they use modern design techniques to seem classy. Look at any Starbucks, Burger King or Taco Bell and the color palette is nearly identical. They use grey to feel neutral and futuristic, but old and distinguished. This switch in design can seemingly be traced to McDonald’s redesign initiative “Forever Young”.

“Forever Young” was launched in 2006, and sought to transform the playground feel of McDonald’s into a cafe-style space. What resulted was a push for a more contemporary aura accented by terracotta, olive and grey colors paired with wooden furniture. Of course, other fast-food restaurants saw this change and followed suit. 

In their race to redesign and rebrand to appeal to the “fast-casual” consumer, fast food companies began assimilating to the same basic styles. Where there used to be a menagerie of different colors and shapes, most places look largely identical, except for a brand-specific accent color. Consumers want restaurants that offer quick service and higher quality food usually at higher prices.

Instead of building up their strengths, fast food companies seek to copy others. Even from a business standpoint, this is a weak choice to make. Assimilation destroys their brand’s recognizability and comes across as a cheap way to appeal to new consumer culture.

All these elements combine to present a modern look that’s unrecognizable from how these places were before the 2000s. This new branding is something fast food companies have accepted, in an evolve-or-die race that has little effect on profitability.

Of course, fast food isn’t at death’s door. McDonald’s for one still remains on top, with it being the highest-grossing fast food chain in the world.

Despite earning $112 billion dollars globally in 2021, McDonald’s isn’t successful because of their new cafe-esque design or faux-leather chair but because of their cheap food and domination of fast-food culture. It’s because of new technology and innovations such as the double drive-thru, self-service kiosk and mobile app, not overly sleek chairs.

One can’t help but miss the distinctiveness fast-food restaurants once had. Companies forget people don’t walk into a Burger King and think about how modern it is, nor do they linger and enjoy the ambiance of beeping fryers. Even as they modernize their architecture, fast-food companies forget what food they sell.

In their quest to make consumers forget why they’re paying for a dry burger and fries, they remove themselves from their own brand. Sometimes food can just be good — people don’t need haute architecture and neutral grey to convince them.

Featured Illustration by Erika Sevilla

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Alfred Dozier

Alfred Dozier

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