Starting a New Restaurant? Here’s Your Guide to Different Restaurant Styles

So, you’re opening up a new restaurant. Congratulations!

But before you open, it’s important that you have a clear vision. Restaurants come in all shapes and styles.

Do you know what your restaurant style is?

Here is your ultimate guide to different restaurant styles you can choose from.

Restaurant Styles

You probably already have some decisions made about your restaurant. Decisions like where it will be, what you will serve, what kind of music you’ll play, etc. But you might not have the style nailed down yet.

This could because you’re not sure that different styles exist. Did you know that every restaurant you’ve ever eaten at has a specific style? And that this style will guide your answers to common customer questions, such as “do you take reservations?” and “can I wear flip-flops?”

We’ll break it all down for you.

Casual Dining

A restaurant with a casual dining style has a relaxed and friendly vibe. The prices are pretty moderate and typically higher than fast casual restaurants but lower than fine dining.

There’s probably a vast alcohol menu with different types of wines and beers. This could also be a bar that happens to serve decent food. Food that comes in typically large portions, that are good for sharing.

There’s a chance this casual dining establishment is part of a wider chain, but not always. If this were a restaurant in Italy, it would be called a “trattoria” meaning “small restaurant.” Italian trattorias are usually independently owned and operated.

Causal dining restaurants can have any theme it wants. Like BBQ a la Long Horns, or Americana like Ruby Tuesday’s, or maybe Mexican such as On the Border.

You might find those casual dining restaurants have food that’s similar to fast-casual spots but with table service dining. Casual dining establishments typically employ waiters to take orders and serve your food.

Most casual dining locations have a family-friendly environment. There’s also normally a more extensive menu than fast casual spots.

On the menu, you’ll likely find a vast array of pasta, chicken and simple seafood dishes. Some casually dining eateries will have specialized menus, while others will have a broad range of cuisines.

Fast-Casual

Fast-casual is a mash-up between fast food and casual dining. In the past decade, this has been one of the most successful types of restaurants and continues the thrive today.

Fast-casual prices are somewhere between fast food and casual dining restaurants. There is typically not a full table service, but the food is of decent quality. The atmosphere is usually a little more sophisticated than a fast food establishment.

There might be an open kitchen where customers can see their food being prepared. This is often an effective way for a fast-casual restaurant to make sure the customer’s experience is both efficient and memorable.

There is a similarity to fast-casual restaurants and fast food restaurants. The big difference is the quality of food. Fast-casual establishments tend to be regarded as healthier and of higher quality. This allows the owners to charge more than fast food restaurants.

For example, chicken at a fast food spot might only be fried. While at a fast-casual spot, you may be able to order roasted chicken with vegetables and freshly baked bread.

These restaurants are usually a little more upscale than a fast food spot. They might offer gourmet bread and organic ingredients. Panera Bread is a good example of fast casual.

It’s common for customers to order their food at a counter and sit down to eat at a fast-casual spot. Fast-casual restaurants also give the customer the option to order food to go. Typically fast-casual restaurants specialize in a type of food like Mexican, Chinese or even just salads.

Family-Style

Family-style dining is mostly perceived as a fairly casual dining experience in the United States. It usually involves moderately priced entrees from menus that fuse classic cuisines with signature sauces, dips, and toppings.

Family-style restaurants are like casual dining restaurants with one big difference. Food tends to be served on larger dishes, for the table to pass around and share. As The Olive Garden reminds us, “When you’re here, you’re family!”

Family style restaurants tend to have a relaxed atmosphere where patrons can have more or a choice of what they eat. Successful family style restaurants’ food will have better price points than a traditional menu. Family style caters to a clientele that ranges from families with children to large groups of friends.

Chinses and Japanese restaurants tend to be family style and might even have a circular rotating plate or lazy Susan, to make sure everyone can have a bite of any dish they want.

Fine or High-End Dining

Fine and high end dining restaurants typically have the most elaborate menus with the most expensive price. The atmosphere of the restaurant is typically elegance, grace, and sophistication.

The lighting might be subtle, and somewhat dim and romantic. There may even be music playing softly in the background to reflect the theme, like classical, jazz or something modern.

Fine and high-end dining establishments typically require a reservation, that you might even need days or even weeks in advance. To find a fine dining restaurant near you, check out Got Table. Some of these restaurants enforce a dress code, like you may need a jacket or certain shoes to enter, while others do not.

Very experienced and even celebrity chefs cook for these restaurants. So the customers don’t mind paying a lot, because they know they’re getting a high-quality meal. There might even be a pre-fixe or five-course menu with a wine pairing and or an expansive wine list.

When you think “fine or high-end dining” you might envision crisp white tablecloths and waiters in tuxedos, which can be the case. Fine dining offers their customers the finest food, service, and atmosphere, which means an expensive bill. It’s rare that a fine dining establishment is a chain, even if they’re owned by the same person or company, each restaurant is unique.

It’s common for fine dining restaurants to have some sort of awards or acclaim. Perhaps it could even be on the list of the 50 best restaurants in the world.

Customer service is the most important aspect of a fine dining establishment. The staff will go far beyond simply taking your order and delivering your food. You might even be escorted to your table, have your chair held out for you, or your napkin and silverware replaced between courses.

This is because the staff of fine dining establishments goes through rigorous training. They are trained to know all the answers to any question a customer might have about any item on the menu from food to wine. They also should be able to make menu recommendations if asked.

Most of the time, fine dining restaurant clients are loyal and will keep on coming back or may even have standing reservations for certain night or occasions. Which means keeping and maintaining these customers is a focus for this restaurants staff, as maintaining customers is usually easier than finding new ones.

Cafe or Bistro

Cafes tend to not offer table service. Customers might order their food from a counter and serve themselves. A cafe menu typically has items like coffee, espresso, pastries, and sandwiches.

Cafes originated in Europe with roots in France. They are characterized by their intimate relaxed atmosphere and, commonly, outdoor seating. A lot of cafes encourage clients to spend the whole day there if they wish, with amenities like free wifi.

Bistros are similar to cafes, the fare is simple and the setting is casual. The main difference is while cafes may only serve coffee and pastries, bistros tend to have more options like entire meals and even alcohol.

Fast Food or Quick Service

Fast food or quick service restaurants tend to have food that is ready the fastest at the cheapest prices. The menu tends to have hamburgers, chicken, sandwiches, Mexican food or ice cream. Ingredients are often preheated or precooked to decrease cooking time, and all meals are served in a takeout package.

The decor is simple, there might even be a drive-in. The interior is usually made up of benches or basic chairs and tables. Colors tend to be bright – yellows, greens, and reds are common.

Fast food spots are usually chain restaurants with many locations, that are sometimes global. There are also small, local non-chain fast food eateries.

Now Open Your Resturant

Now that you know the different restaurant styles out there, you can decide what you want your restaurant to be. Will it be casual dining, fast casual, family style, fine dining, a cafe or fast food?

You may want to also consider your space, resources, menu, and budget when deciding on your restaurant style.

For more resources and information on starting a business, check out our blog.

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