When you step out for a bite to eat, a lot more goes into your meal than the food. Every bit of what you see, hear, smell, and eventually taste contributes to the totality of your evening out, a fact not lost on the designers who have conceptualized the experience for you from soup to nuts. In particular, the typographic choices used for a restaurant’s signage, menus and wine lists, matchbooks, and advertising play a huge role in the overall sensory experience and help make a temporary break from your everyday life—be it lunch, dinner, or just a coffee to-go—distinct and memorable.
No one understands this better than Douglas Riccardi, principal of New York City design firm MEMO-NY. Riccardi specializes in restaurant branding and marketing collateral for the hospitality industry, and has designed identities for Hale & Hearty, Schnippers Quality Kitchen, and Café Spice, among others. During a talk he presented at Typographics, Cooper Union’s week-long design festival held in June, Riccardi put forth the equation that mood + scene + voice + culture = restaurant branding, and discussed how typography, in particular, plays a critical role. We asked him to elaborate on the three biggest ways typography affects the way we eat.
1. Restaurant typography can take you to a 1920’s Paris bistro—or to an East Coast seafood shack when you’re in L.A. “Right off the bat, typography can immediately geolocate you anywhere—a place, a time, or a time and place,” says Riccardi. “That really pulls on our memories of past meals we’ve had.”
“It’s a very important function: how the type puts you in the proper mood for the experience you’re about to have.”
2. Restaurant typography can make you feel clean and virtuous about your food—or ready to sit and chow down. “Look at Sweetgreen,” Riccardi says. “There’s something so clean about that typography, it puts you in the mood to be virtuous, organic, vegan, gluten-free. Maybe it’s not a moral readiness, but more of an emotional readiness for the experience, as opposed to a sensual and food-based readiness.” Whereas the typical typography for a barbecue joint preps you for food that will really stick to your ribs, with a vegetable-centric place like Sweetgreen he says, “You know right off the bat you’re going to leave feeling clean.”
3. The menu is a typographic story and a fabrication story. “Do you get a leather book, a sheet of Xerox paper, a hunk of wood with grommets, a piece of plastic?” Riccardi asks. “Typography plays a part in every other customer touchpoint, but it becomes much more robust as you hold the menu in your hands and consider your choices.” A chalkboard scrawled with handwritten script is very different from a 10-page laminated Greek diner menu presented in a vinyl cover. These objects, and the lettering printed on them, set up totally different expectations for the food and overall experience.
You’ll probably also dig: 3 Fail-proof Tips for Designing the Perfect Menu from Art of the Menu’s Armin Vit