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An Overview of Different Restaurant Types

An Overview of Different Restaurant Types

There are many different restaurant types out there. New restaurants open all the time, and concepts vary from pizza chains to fine sushi restaurants to breakfast cafes and 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, including full-service, fast-casual and quick-service. This article details the challenges and opportunities operators face within each restaurant type.

Booth seating in a full-service restaurant Full-Service Restaurants

Full-service restaurants encapsulate the old-fashioned idea 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, and in addition to kitchen staff, they almost always employ hosts or hostesses, 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. Fine dining restaurants 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 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 the guests' conversations, and the décor should add an elegant and unique perspective. Fine dining establishments strive to create an overall 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 the budget. Fine dining restaurants must constantly maintain an elevated level of service and quality in every aspect, from dinner service to food presentation to restroom cleanliness.
  • Advantages. One advantage of running a fine dining restaurant is that managers and servers are frequently experienced and committed to making their careers in fine dining establishments. For instance, managers typically require five to seven years of experience as well as 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.
  • Examples. Morton's, Ruth's Chris, or any Wolfgang Puck restaurants are examples of well-known fine dining locations.
Casual Dining

Another type of full service eatery, casual dining restaurants are typically more affordable and often geared toward families. Casual dining restaurants offer full table service but the décor, food and service is 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, however, will these dishes go over $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 fine dining service. Servers may act more casually around diners, but guests still expect professionalism and service throughout the meal.
  • Atmosphere. The casual restaurant atmosphere is often family-friendly, with decorations adorning the walls, or themed posters and colorful paint and booths. 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 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, special 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.
  • Examples. Olive Garden, Chili's, Macaroni Grill, Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster are all examples of casual full service restaurants.
fast-casual restaurant dining area Fast-Casual Restaurants

Fast-casual is relatively modern terminology for a restaurant that falls between full-service and quick-service. Also called quick-casual and 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 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 menu 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. Like quick-service, speed and convenience are important aspects of fast-casual restaurant concepts, 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 definitely play a role in creating 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 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, or showcase a certain regional fare, or even stick to the classics, all 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, but still cater to families and students. Many also believe fast-casual restaurants provide more healthful food than what quick-service restaurants have to offer.
  • Examples. Examples of fast casual restaurants include Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Red Brick Pizza and Cosi.
quick-service food counter Quick-Service Restaurants

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, but food items are also available a 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 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, individual "look and feel" in their restaurants. For example, Jamba Juice chains paint their walls and hang posters that comply with a very specific color palette and theme, and 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 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 percent. 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 food wherever the restaurant is located. A McDonald's burger tastes the same in Kansas as it does in Tokyo. This type of familiar consistent.
  • Examples. 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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