An Overview of Different Restaurant Types


There are many different restaurant types out there. New restaurants open all the time and concepts can vary from pizza chains to fine sushi restaurants to breakfast cafes. There are even restaurants that specialize in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Despite the broad range of restaurant concepts, most are classified by one of three major restaurant types: full-service, fast-casual and quick-service. This article details the challenges and opportunities operators face within each restaurant type.

Full-Service Restaurants

Booth seating in a full-service restaurantFull-service restaurants encapsulate the time-honored tradition of going out to eat. These restaurants invite guests to be seated at tables while servers take their full order and serve food and drink. Full-service restaurants are typically either fine dining establishments or casual eateries. In addition to the kitchen staff they almost always employ hosts, servers and bartenders. Two standard types of full-service operations include fine dining and casual dining restaurants, discussed below.

Fine Dining

Fine dining restaurants top the ladder when it comes to service and quality. They usually gain perceived value with unique and beautiful décor, renowned chefs and special dishes. Listed below are some of the features, challenges and advantages of running a fine dining restaurant:

  • Prices. Prices for entrées are often $20 or more.
  • Service style. Service style for fine dining restaurants is top-notch. Well-trained and experienced servers and sommeliers attend to guests, providing excellent knowledge of food and wines.
  • Atmosphere. The atmosphere in a fine dining establishment is one of the keys to its perceived value. The lights need to soften the mood; the music should reflect the concept yet not overpower guest conversations; the décor should add an elegant and unique perspective. Overall, fine dining establishments strive to create an exceptional dining experience for guests.
  • Challenges. Fine dining restaurants probably face their biggest challenges in poor economic times. People who do not feel that they can afford to eat at upscale restaurants often cut them out of their budget. These restaurants must constantly maintain an elevated level of service and quality in every aspect including dinner service, food presentation and restroom cleanliness.
  • Advantages. One advantage of running a fine dining restaurant is that managers and servers are frequently experienced and committed to building a career in fine dining. For instance, managers typically require five to seven years of experience, as well as an immense knowledge of food and wine. Chefs need to be experienced as well, perhaps even requiring a culinary degree. Celebrated chefs will also give a fine dining restaurant the upper-hand when it comes to quality food and artistic presentation.

Some examples of well-known fine dining locations are: Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris, or any Wolfgang Puck restaurant.

Casual Dining

Another type of full service eatery is casual dining restaurants. They are typically more affordable and often geared toward families. Casual dining restaurants offer full table service but the décor, food and service are usually less remarkable than a fine dining establishment. The list below discusses some particulars of casual dining restaurants.

  • Price. Casual restaurant entrée prices are usually in the range of $10-15 depending on the geographical area. Rarely will these dishes go higher than $20.
  • Service style. Guests are seated by a host or hostess. Servers help explain menu items and take orders. Service style for casual dining restaurants is usually not as formal as a fine dining service. Servers may act more casually around diners, but guests still expect a level of professionalism and service throughout the meal.
  • Atmosphere. The casual restaurant atmosphere is often family-friendly, with colorful decorations or themed posters adorning the walls. Like fine dining restaurants, casual eateries can specialize in a certain regional cuisine or a fusion of several dishes. The menu and concept usually determine the atmosphere.
  • Challenges. Casual dining restaurants may find challenges in keeping up with competitors. They compete both with fine dining restaurants and fast-casual places depending on subtleties in the menu pricing and atmosphere. Fast-casual restaurants do well to differentiate themselves from their competitors to try and attract customers. They should put their marketing efforts toward promoting the ways in which they are unique and better than the competition.
  • Advantages. Casual dining restaurants have an advantage in that they are often able to attract a wider customer base than fine dining restaurants. Casual restaurants are especially appealing as they are more accessible for families with children.

Some examples of casual full service restaurants are: Olive Garden, Chili’s, Macaroni Grill, Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster.

Fast-Casual Restaurants

fast-casual restaurant dining area

Fast-casual is relatively modern terminology for a restaurant that falls between full-service and quick-service. Also called quick-casual or limited-service, these types of restaurants are typically distinguished by service type and food quality. Fast-casual restaurants are often perceived to offer better quality food and a more upscale dining area than quick-service restaurants, but with less expensive menu items than full-service restaurants.

  • Price. Fast-casual establishments try to settle within the $7 to $10 range, and usually specialize in a few menu items or combination menu items such as an overstuffed burrito for $7 or a sandwich, side and drink for under $10.
  • Service style. Guests will often walk up to a service counter where they will choose items from a menu board and place their orders with a cashier. The guests may also choose their food first, perhaps walking along an assembly line for their sandwich or burrito, and then pay when they receive the food. Similar to quick-service, speed and convenience are important aspects of a fast-casual restaurant. Although, fast-casual restaurants arguably demonstrate better quality food and service than fast-casual restaurants.
  • Atmosphere. As with any restaurant, the menu items and restaurant culture will likely affect what the restaurant looks like inside. Some are very basic, while others use colors and signs to demonstrate their style and create a low-key ambience. Lighting and music also play a large part in creating the atmosphere.
  • Challenges. Unlike full-service restaurants, fast-casual restaurants experience a good deal of turnover. Frequent management change can bring a restaurant’s success crashing down since workers do not see the level of commitment more often seen in full-service restaurants. According to studies during a three year period, sub shops and fast-casual pizza joints saw some of the most instances of turnover of any other restaurant type. 1
  • Advantages. The fast-casual concept as a whole has a lot of strong advantages over other restaurant types. For example, the idea of fast-casual has a lot of wiggle room. It can be a totally organic eatery, showcase a certain regional fare or even stick to the classics. All the while, attracting customers with affordable menu prices. Fast-casual restaurants are extremely versatile. Since many obtain liquor licenses, they attract a large portion of the adult clientele while still catering to families and students. Many also believe fast-casual restaurants provide more healthful food than what quick-service restaurants have to offer.

Examples of fast casual restaurants include Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Red Brick Pizza and Cosi.

Quick-Service Restaurants

quick-service food counter

Quick-service is the term for restaurants that capitalize on speed of service and convenience. Fast-food restaurants often fall under the umbrella of quick-service restaurants, but not all quick-service places serve fast-food. Quick-service restaurants are characterized by simple décor, inexpensive food items and speedy service.

  • Price. The least expensive of all, quick-service restaurants usually offer meals for $6 or less. They often provide “combo” meal choices which can add on extra for sides and drinks. These food items are also available à la carte.
  • Service style. Service style at quick-service restaurants typically includes a service counter with one or more cashiers working to take orders. Customers order off of a menu board hanging on the wall or from the ceiling. It is not unusual to see a drive-thru at a quick-service restaurant.
  • Atmosphere. In comparison to full-service restaurants, quick-service establishments generally have simpler dining areas with fewer decorations. However, quick-service chains in particular often strive to achieve a very specific and individual “look and feel” to their restaurants. For example, Jamba Juice chains paint their walls and hang posters to comply with a very specific color palette and theme. Also, every store is required to play specific music every month.
  • Challenges. Like fast-casual restaurants, quick-service restaurants experience a good deal of turnover. Frequent ownership and management change coupled with an overwhelmingly young workforce tend to increase general turnover rates. Coffee shops, which are popular quick-service restaurant concepts, are a good example. Statistics from a recent three-year study show that coffee shops experience a three-year cumulative ownership turnover rate of 70%. 2
  • Advantages. Quick-service restaurants often succeed in a big way because of speed of service and overall consistency. In earlier days when McDonald’s was still young, the idea of assembly line food service operations were still new. However, this makes for a recognizable, familiar and consistent line of product wherever the restaurant is located.

Examples of quick-service restaurants include McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Jamba Juice and Starbucks.

1 H.G. Parsa, John T. Self, David Njite and Tiffany King. “Why Restaurants Fail.” Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly 46, no. 3 (2005): 304-322.
2 Ibid.


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  1. good overview… i must add that i’ve noticed theres a significant reduction in maintenance, repair, and operating costs in operating a fast casual restaurant(like 5 guys, sortaquiznos) compared to a typical chain fast food restaurant…

    im an HVACr field tech and our company monitors energy usage and on/off cycles also door ajar times at a bunch of different food establishments… and in general when comparing a typical freestanding fast casual place vs a freestanding fast food joint … gas and electrical usage were relatively less, they were stable and cyclical..and with lower door times…. when pulling up the fast food joints usage there were large spikes in gas and electric…. and doors were left ajar often and for longer periods

    fast casual places will often employ KISS (keep it simple stupid) operating principles that call for simple, serviceable, utilitarian equipment (for instance 4 midpricerange recycling gas deep fryers and 2 60 inch gas stainless flattop grills with weighted cast sandwich press;no need for electric griddle; no need for walkin freezers;small reach-in freezer, a large walk in cooler and 2 combination reach-in/make-table coolers) –a larger, fuller walk-in will cause less wear and tear from shortcycling to its equipment components–and often in fastfood walk-ins , boxes are placed and stacked improperly causing a tunnel effect and shortcycling due to improper airflow

  2. With restaurants, there are a few different types. For me, I like to stick to the casual dining ones. The main reason for this is that the prices aren’t over the top and the atmosphere is very friendly. I also like them since you are served as you would at a fine dining restaurant.

  3. I must say very informative article about restaurants..Every restaurant sets a high standard for its food quality and ensures that customer receive the same quality with every meal..

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