This is why fast food restaurant logos are yellow

Posted by
Sarah Biddlecombe
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It’s all down to the ‘ketchup and mustard theory’, apparently…

It feels like one of those questions you only ask yourself when you’re hungover, desperately scanning the high street for the familiar yellow ‘M’ that you know indicates burgers, chips and the salvation of a super-sized Diet Coke. But seriously, why are most fast food signs yellow?

Now that we’re all sober (I presume), let’s take a few minutes to break it down; you never know, this could be the pub quiz question that finally wins you the prize.

First, let’s look at all the fast food restaurants that make use of the colour yellow. There’s the aforementioned yellow ‘M’, or ‘golden arches’, of McDonalds. There’s the last three letters of Subway. There’s the bun symbol that sandwiches the red lettering of Burger King and the jaunty yellow dash that underscores the Pizza Hut logo. Then there’s the four yellow squares on a blue background that anyone with a semi-decent sausage-roll habit will recognise as Greggs. And the list goes on.

You can bet your bottom dollar that this yellow-washing of signs isn’t an accident, either. Scientists have found that people make up their minds about whether to buy a product within 90 seconds – and 62% to 90% of this decision-making process is based on colour alone. So if restaurants want to lure in customers with their signs, thinking about the colours they use is an important step in the marketing process.

Yellow is a great choice to make when it comes to marketing food. The colour is associated with positive feelings of happiness, joy and warmth, so we’re likely to feel content just seeing a yellow fast food sign – and that’s before we’ve even started on the treats that lie within.

Yellow is also undeniably attention-grabbing. It’s a colour that can be seen from a great distance away, while also standing out from the crowds. It’s the reason that taxis, road signs and warning lights are all yellow, too.

But the restaurant managers have another trick up their collective sleeve. As well as using yellow to evoke happy feelings and ensure their signs can be seen from a distance, many of them also employ a little-known trick called the ‘ketchup and mustard theory’.

This theory refers to the repetitive use of red as well as yellow, as we can see in so many fast food signs. The yellow ‘M’ for Mcdonalds sits on a red background, while the yellow buns enclose red lettering used to spell out Burger King. Plus, the roof above the Pizza Hut logo is symbolised with a bright red splash of colour.

According to the theory, the combination of these colours makes people want to stop what they’re doing and eat. The red colour makes people feel comforted and hungry, while the yellow makes people feel happy and excited – which is just the way you want to be feeling when you’re heading to the counter to order a box of McNuggets. Thanks, restaurant signs. has had a yellow makeover on 15 August, to celebrate our Yellow Issue and pay homage to the colour of the season. Read more about the most playful shade of all here.

Main image: Unsplash