Why Pizza Hut’s red roofs and McDonald’s playgrounds are gone – Orange County Register
By Nathaniel Meyersohn
For decades, bright, whimsical, and oddly shaped fast food restaurants lined the side of America’s highways.
You would drive past Howard Johnson’s with its orange roofs and then drive past the red shacks of Pizza Hut. A few more miles and there was the White Castle with its roadside turrets. Arby’s roof was shaped like a wagon and Denny’s resembled a boomerang. And then McDonald’s, with its neon gold arches towering over its restaurants.
These whimsical designs were an early form of branding, gimmicks designed to grab drivers’ attention and make them stop.
As fast-food chains spread across the United States after World War II, new street restaurant brands had to stand out. Television was a new medium that had not yet been beamed into every single home, newspapers were still on the rise and social media was unthinkable.
Hence, restaurant chains turned to architecture as a key tool to promote their brand and create their corporate identity.
But today’s fast-food architecture has lost its whimsical charm and distinctive features. Critics say changes in the restaurant industry, advertising and technology have rendered fast food’s exteriors dull and dull.
Goodbye bright colors and unusual shapes. Today the design is minimalist and elegant. Most fast food restaurants are built to maximize efficiency and not draw motorists’ attention. Many take the form of boxes decorated with wood paneling, engineered stone or brick facades, and flat roofs. One critic has dubbed this trend “faux five-star restaurants,” designed to make customers forget they’re eating greasy fries and burgers.
The chains now look almost identical. Call it the gentrification of fast food design.
“They’re soulless little boxes,” said Glen Coben, an architect who has designed boutique hotels, restaurants and shops. “They’re like Monopoly houses.”
Fast food restaurants developed and expanded in the mid-20th century with the explosion of car culture and the development of freeways.
Large corporations dominated highway restaurants through a strategy known as “place-product packaging” — the coordination of building design, decor, menu, service and pricing, according to John Jakle, author of Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age. “
Fast food chain buildings have been designed to catch the attention of potential customers driving past at high speeds and make them slow down.
“The buildings had to be visually strong and bold,” said Alan Hess, architecture critic and historian. “That included neon signs and the shape of the building.”
A leading example: McDonald’s design, with its two golden arches leaning over the roof of its restaurant, a style known as Googie.
Introduced in California in 1953, McDonald’s design was influenced by cutting-edge cafes and street stands in Southern California, then the heart of burgeoning fast-food chains.
The two 7.5-meter-tall bright yellow sheet metal arches that rose through the McDonald’s buildings were high enough to attract motorists amidst the clutter of other roadside buildings, their neon cladding gleaming day and night. McDonald’s design sparked a wave of similar Googie-style architecture at fast-food chains nationwide.
Well into the 1970s, the designs were a prominent feature on American roadsides, “shaping the image of fast-food drive-thru architecture into popular consciousness,” Hess wrote in a magazine article.
But there has been a backlash to this aesthetic. As the environmental movement developed in the 1960s, opposition to the flashy Googie style grew. Critics called it “visual pollution”.
“Critics hated this populist commercial roadside Californian architecture,” Hess said. The Googie style fell out of fashion in the 1970s when the fast food style favored dark colors, tile and mansard roofs.
The new McDonald’s prototype became a flat mansard roof and brick design with a clapboard texture. Its arches moved from the top of the building to signposts and became McDonald’s corporate logo.
“McDonald’s and Jack in the Box unfurled their neon and day-glo banners and architectural containers against the endless sky,” wrote the New York Times in 1978. They were “toned down with the changing tastes of the ’60s and ’70s.” And with the proliferation of mass communications advertising campaigns, brands no longer relied on architectural features to differentiate themselves—they could simply flood the television waves.
Fast food is elevated
In the 1980s and 1990s, companies began introducing children’s playgrounds and party spaces to attract families — additions to existing “brown” structures, Hess said.
The rise of mobile ordering and cost concerns have since transformed modern fast food design.
With fewer people sitting down to full meals in fast-food restaurants, businesses didn’t need elaborate dining areas. That’s why today they are expanding drive-through lanes, increasing the number of pickup windows and adding digital kiosks in stores.
“We have a lot of red-roofed restaurants” that “definitely need to go,” a Pizza Hut executive said in 2018 of its classic design. The company’s new prototype, Hut Lanes, is helping to reduce wait times at drive-through locations.
The new fast-food box designs, with their flat roofs, heat and cool more efficiently than older structures, said John Gordon, a restaurant consultant. The kitchens have been reconfigured to speed up food preparation. They are also cheaper to build, maintain and a smaller shop to staff.
However, some say that in the process of modernization, fast food design has been homogenized and lost its creative purpose.
“I don’t know if you could identify them if they had a different name on the front,” said Addison Del Mastro, an urbanist author who documents the history of commercial landscapes. “There is nothing to excite the wandering imagination.”
https://www.ocregister.com/2023/02/20/why-pizza-huts-red-roofs-and-mcdonalds-play-places-have-disappeared/ Why Pizza Hut’s red roofs and McDonald’s playgrounds are gone – Orange County Register