Printing and Design Tips: July 2017, Issue #192

Humor in Food Service Advertising

I usually think of food and restaurants as a very serious topic. Eating good food is one of my favorite passtimes. But last night after a long workout at the gym my fiancee and I were hungry, so we stopped at Nandos Peri-Peri for some spicy chicken. We had been there many times before, but for whatever reason the consistent use of humor in the printed materials stood out. My fiancee brought this to my attention, and then I saw it everywhere in the restaurant.

For example, the napkins were printed in one color on standard white square napkin stock with the tagline, “It’s time to clean up your act.” Of course the Nando’s Peri-Peri logo was also printed immediately below the tagline for brand recognition.

Here’s another example. All of the waiters and waitresses wore Nando’s branded t-shirts with various screen printed sayings, such as, “I bring a lot to the table.” This double entendre mixing “corporate-speak” language with food service intent was priceless. Another shirt said “I make chicks hot.”

The signage took a similar irreverent tone, with sayings such as “Life’s too short to sleep. Take a little look at our menu and wake up your tastebuds.”

Keep in mind that everything I saw, both in the restaurant and later when I checked out the website, consistently and seamlessly connected the physical restaurant locations and the online presence, using the same fun typeface for brand recognition (a bouncy, casual, easy-to-read typeface) and similar imagery of chicken platters and Nando’s signature Peri-Peri sauces.

So why does this work so well, in my opinion?

There are a number of reasons. First of all, it’s clear that the restaurant chain did not overspend on its marketing materials. An upscale, pithy comment printed in one color on the napkins goes a long way. Per unit, it’s cheap, but the wit and double meanings in most of the printed commentary reflect an intelligence, irreverence, and a lightness of spirit that rub off on the entire dining experience, particularly when echoed by the young, energetic, and personable wait staff.

The knowing wink and nod of the witty sayings on the napkins, signage, and t-shirts suggests that you are part of the in-crowd, that you will get high quality food quickly for an economical price.

I appreciate it when I see consistency among the print materials, online presence, and actual user experience in a retail shop, food service outlet, or any other similar venue. (It doesn’t happen all that often, particularly to this level of success and with this unique tone.) When all media messages are graphically consistent, and when the dining experience matches the “branded look,” that’s priceless.

From a printer’s and graphic designer’s perspective, this is effective marketing. If you can offset print one color on a white napkin, screen print one or a few colors on a t-shirt, and offset print store signage in 4-color process ink—and have them all work together seamlessly to enhance the customer’s awareness, that’s excellent use of the marketing budget.

Chipotle Does It, Too

Another favorite restaurant of mine and my fiancee’s is Chipotle. Rght next to one of the theaters in which we install movie standees, there is both a Nando’s and a Chipotle facing one another. What a choice.

I have a printed Chipotle catering bag in front of me at the moment. It has a lot of type screen printed on its brown woven surface, but the typeface is fun and readable, and the letterforms of the typeface suggest a certain lightness and humor. It’s a catering bag for carrying lots of food, but the printed text on the side of the bag directly addresses those who might use it in other ways: “the snake charmer, freelance clown, nomadic bookbinder, or varsity athlete.”

The Chipotle logo is visible (subtly) in a darker brown than the fabric of the bag, and all type is nestled together and printed in a light yellowish beige, giving an earth tone coloration to the product. But the fun type and the implausible and zany printed text catch your attention and pull you into the narrative. You begin to see the brand as upscale, witty, and fun, and you want to be a part of the Chipotle ethos.

Although I can’t remember the content at the moment, I do remember similar Chipotle menus, cups, and even paper bags designed with the same type style and including similar chatty and witty marketing copy. Some of the type even looks hand drawn, and all of it invites the reader to follow along into a magical little world.

Like the Nando’s printed materials, Chipotle’s bags, cups, menus, food-staff t-shirts, and napkins project a consistent “tone.” This ambiance makes you feel smart (after all, you appreciate their subtle humor). It also makes you feel like you’re environmentally responsible (by eating sustainable meat) and health conscious (by reading the printed calorie counts on the menus). And all of this comes from one or two earth-tone inks printed on kraft paper.

That’s a good use of marketing dollars, and, personally, I have more fun in this kind of venue than in an upscale restaurant. Mostly it’s the food and the great prices, but it’s also the environment, and the environment includes the tone of the printed marketing products: their creativity, interesting content, wit, and the attention they draw to the healthy and sustainable food. Just like Nando’s Peri-Peri.

(Interestingly enough, many years ago I read an article on dining out. I had always thought of going to a restaurant as being all about the food. I didn’t much care about atmosphere, but that was just my own preference. But the article noted that eating out had become “entertainment.” It had gone from being about the food to being about the enjoyable overall experience. In light of this shift in focus, I find it totally understandable that restaurants are using interior design (store design) as well as signage, print collateral, t-shirts, and even paper bags--all working in concert--to present a coherent marketing, as well as dining, experience.)

(One final note. My fiancee and I recently used a Chipotle catering box to carry art supplies to one of our art therapy classes with the autistic. Since the box was closed, many of the staff members assumed the box contained Chipotle food for everyone. They were disappointed when they opened it up only to find paints, scissors, etc. So the Chipotle marketing materials really do work.)

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]