Design Analysis: QSR Wayfinding

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While examples of wayfinding tend to be focused on helping people orient themselves in tangled, large spaces, wayfinding is also important for navigating smaller spaces. This becomes quickly apparent in service design.

Wayfinding in a quick service restaurant (QSR) is extremely important. QSR’s in New York City often become extremely crowded during peak hours, with customers demanding the ability to:

  • quickly get in
  • understand their options
  • know where to queue at various stages
  • communicate their order
  • get their food
  • leave

Examples of QSR Wayfinding

Below are images captured from four different quick service restaurants.

I thought Pret and Sweetgreen did a better job overall than Starbucks and McDonalds.



Pret A Manger

Pret A Manger





Common Wayfinding Devices

There are several overlapping devices being used in the example wayfinding systems:


Spotlighting, illuminated signs, and screens were the most common device to draw attention. Pret used this device to great effect with the prepared food case. Sweetgreen was the only place to use illuminated signage that was not a screen.

Small Text

All the menu boards had surprisingly small text. I suspect it is used to force customers towards the ordering counter.

Texture Walls

Noisy graphic walls are used as attention bumper walls indicating a lack of useful information. McDonalds used this the most to funnel customers towards the ordering counter.

Missing Wayfinding Devices

A few wayfinding devices I was surprised not to see:

  • Big Text: Big text was completely absent. Rather, lighting was used to draw attention.
  • Floor signage: None of the restaurants used any significant floor signage to shape their queue or provide mapping information. Floor signage can draw paths or provide demarcation to service types.
  • Pickup Queue: In a drive through, there’s the order window, then you’re immediately slotted into a new queue to pick up your food. QSR design often misses a space and wayfinding signifier for this pickup stage.

Redesign: Starbucks

If I were to revamp the Starbucks wayfinding system, I would focus on funneling customers into the ordering queue.

The queue is well managed with dividers and sequential counters for ordering and pickup. However, the initial entrance is unclear. There are too many distracting signs and no signal indicating the primary entrance.

Once customers enter the queue, there is a clear funnel, except for order pickup. I would add an additional sign there.