Winter 2004

Chicken restaurants

Katherine Gillieson
Common knowledge

The appearance of Britain’s fried chicken joints are a uniquely British take on an American theme

Chicken restaurants are a common fixture in Britain, and their kitsch American appearance is a familiar part of the urban landscape. Taken as a series, however, their uniform aesthetic is even more obvious. The typography, symbolism and colour use is unambiguous: stars and / or stripes; various combinations of red, white and blue; the occasional cartoon chicken. The type is often either a chunky American slab serif, a diner-style 1950s display italic, or an imitation of KFC (the inspiration for them all?).

Other American multinationals are also referenced: a hint of the Coca-Cola logo in ‘Carolina’, a bit of Pepsi in ‘Dixy’. All this is wrapped around names that are slightly alien to the typical North American (Smoky Hills, Chicken Ranch). These details are telling; the chicken restaurant storefront is a uniquely British interpretation of American type and signage.

There is more Americana on such signs than you would ever find in the States because the US cultural association is an integral part of the genre in the British Isles. Small shops wear the make-up of the big American chain store, and a visit to the chicken restaurant becomes a cross-cultural experience.

Katherine Gillieson, designer, lecturer, London and Reading

First published in in Eye no. 54 vol. 14, 2004

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