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From Fast Casual to Michelin Star: Types of Restaurants and How to Choose One

Industry Insights

Kelli Messick

FEB 02, 2022

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It’s Saturday night and you’re trying to figure out where to eat for dinner. This can come as a challenge since there are over 1 million restaurants open in the US, with several different types to choose from. After a long week and not wanting to cook, people will tend to visit a new or favorite restaurant. In 2019, Americans were eating out at an average of 5.9 nights a week. Even though this has decreased some because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of delivery and take-out orders has not slowed down. People are able to find any type of restaurant ranging from fine dining to fast food and everything in between. Maybe there is a certain cuisine or vibe you’re wanting but no one has opened that type of restaurant in your area. It might be your time to do it yourself.

Different Types of Restaurants

There are a few different types of restaurants including fine dining, casual dining, contemporary dining, and fast-casual dining. As times change, the types of restaurants change with it and have opened the doors to even more abstract dining experiences like virtual restaurants and pop-up dinners. 

A survey data from location company Bluedot reported that since the COVID-19 pandemic, 43 percent of consumers said they prefer to place their order by mobile phone, well ahead of the 18 percent for “staff member.” This is a drastic change from the traditional dine-in experience where people order from a staff member and enjoy their food in the restaurant. Even though technology is growing in the restaurant world, people still love to have options while deciding between a modernized or conventional restaurant experience.

Bareburger has added mobile ordering through their app and website using Lunchbox.

Bareburger has added mobile ordering through their app and website using Lunchbox.

Virtual restaurants.

Virtual restaurants, also known as cloud or ghost kitchens, are delivery-only restaurants with no public-facing place of business. This is a great option for diners who want to try a new restaurant but want it delivered or to-go. A ghost restaurant allows diners to pick the food up at the location or have it delivered. 

Virtual restaurants are becoming more popular to open because of the low cost associated with them compared to opening a traditional restaurant. They operate out of commercial kitchens, food trucks or standalone ‘ghost kitchen’ facilities like Cloud Kitchens where people can place their orders on an app or web ordering platform. 

Sam’s Crispy Chicken. Image Source: Sam’s Crispy Chicken.

Sam’s Crispy Chicken is a virtual restaurant with various locations in the United States.

Why start a virtual restaurant? Recent data indicates that meal delivery orders increased by more than 150% from 2019 to 2020—and UBS anticipates the food delivery market to increase more than 10x over a ten-year period from $35 billion per year to $365 billion. With the low cost associated with it and its growing popularity, it might be a great fit for your next business venture.

Fine dining.

Most people opt for fine dining restaurants when they are celebrating something special like a birthday, anniversary, or maybe a new job promotion. Fine dining restaurants typically have a formal dress code because they provide an elegant ambiance for your special occasion. This is a great option because most of the time they take reservations and you can guarantee when your seat will be ready. Most fine dining restaurants have a more concise and pricier menu and include white tablecloths in their experience.

Le Bernardin is a fine dining restaurant in New York City. Source: Time Out

Le Bernardin is a fine dining restaurant in New York City. Source: Time Out

Casual dining.

Casual dining is one of the most popular types of restaurants because of the many options it provides. It has a wide variety on the menu for people to choose from whether they are feeling more upscale or not. In a casual dining restaurant, there will be people dressed up or down depending on the occasion. Most casual restaurants can vary their menu by having things cost $10-$30.

Frannie & The Fox is a casual dining restaurant in Charleston, SC that offers breakfast, brunch, and dinner.

Frannie & The Fox is a casual dining restaurant in Charleston, SC that offers breakfast, brunch, and dinner. Source: Frannie & The Fox

Contemporary casual.

Contemporary casual restaurants usually have some kind of theme. This restaurant concept has become more popular as people try to embrace the city or culture around them. For example, contemporary casual restaurants might have the experience of being located in a remodeled factory that has been in the city for more than 100 years. Many people will go try the entrees in this type of restaurant just for the experience of the location.

 Designer Richard Lindvall converted this old Stockholm-based sausage factory into an eatery and meeting space for modern-day use. The entire space consumes 20,000 square feet, which is divided into three different rooms. It is now home to Restaurant Bistro 38, Bar Poche 36, as well as reception and conference spaces.

Designer Richard Lindvall converted this old Stockholm-based sausage factory into an eatery and meeting space for modern-day use. The entire space consumes 20,000 square feet, which is divided into three different rooms. It is now home to Restaurant Bistro 38, Bar Poche 36, as well as reception and conference spaces. Source: Trendhunter

Family style.

Family style is great for a big group of people or a group that wants to share everything. The concept is usually ordering a couple things off the menu and everyone tries them together. Many family style restaurants are Italian or Chinese and have large portions. 

A popular family style restaurant is P.F. Chang’s since they serve large portions and encourage everyone to try different things on the menu together. This type of restaurant establishment usually has a casual atmosphere that people can either dress up or down for depending on the occasion.

P.F. Changs is a popular family style restaurant for people to share their entrees and desserts.

P.F. Chang's is a popular family style restaurant for people to share their entrees and desserts. Source: P.F. Chang's Facebook

Fast casual.

Fast casual is becoming more popular because it offers a counter service when ordering. This means you order everything at the counter when you arrive and have it served to you at your table. Many people enjoy this experience because it is around the same time as fast food, but usually with higher-quality ingredients.

Tallulah’s Taqueria has customers order their food when they come in and then deliver to their tables, giving it a fast casual feel.

Fast food.

Fast food has been around since 1921 when White Castle was the first fast food chain to open in Wichita, Kansas. Fast food is great when you’re in a hurry and many people lean towards it as a comfort food. Some of the most popular fast food restaurants are Burger King, Taco Bell  and McDonald’s. You might pick up some food from one of them when they are having a bad day because it reminds them of their childhood or if they are on a long road trip, sometimes fast food is the only thing available right off the interstate.

Cafe.

Cafes or bistros are becoming increasingly popular whether you need a light snack or maybe a full meal. Cafes will have coffee, teas, and sometimes smoothies on the menu. They will even expand to fast-prepared meals like wraps or deli sandwiches to catch the lunch crowd. Cafes and bistros are a great place to meet up with friends for a quick bite, or bring your computer and work remotely. A great example would be Clean Juice and how they try to have healthy options on their menu for everyone.

Clean Juice is a cafe that offers smoothies, juices, coffee and food to accommodate people on the go or wanting to stay for a little in their space.

Buffet.

Buffets are usually a family-friendly experience by paying a fixed price when you walk in and being able to get anything on the buffet line in an all-you-can-eat experience. This kind of restaurant is great for picky eaters or if people want several different types of food. Some buffets offer several different types of cuisines or stick to a certain kind like pizza or sushi. 

Since COVID-19, buffets have had to shift how they operate to make sure they are keeping everyone safe and healthy. A popular buffet restaurant, Golden Corral, shifted their buffet style to include to-go and delivery options. They are taken more safety measures by not having self-serve stations and changing out the utensils often for the employees to use.

Golden Corral has opted for the employees to serve their customers to try and keep everyone healthy.

Golden Corral has opted for the employees to serve their customers to try and keep everyone healthy. Source: Golden Corral Facebook

Food trucks.

With over 24,000 food trucks in the U.S., there are usually great options to choose from in your area. Food trucks can range from tacos, seafood, ramen and more depending on where you live. Sometimes, food trucks are a great experience to support a new local chef. Sometimes they’re chosen for convenience since they’re at the concert or brewery you’re going to. The best way to find out where a food truck will be is to check their social media account. Food trucks might not have a website or online ordering system, but will have quick-service and a more relaxed atmosphere.

Taqueria El Azteca is a food truck in North Carolina that pops up at all kinds of events including weddings.

Taqueria El Azteca is a food truck in North Carolina that pops up at all kinds of events including weddings. Source:Taqueria El Azteca

Concession stands.

Concession stands are typically filled with popcorn, hot dogs, nachos, soda, and beer. This food service is great for people who want a snack at a game or event, but don’t want to have to pick from a lot of options. They are mostly for people in a bind and need to eat something or tide them over till their next meal. Although some people feel a hint of nostalgia when it comes to concession stands and have to get popcorn or nachos every time they go to the baseball game or movies.

Pop-up restaurant.

A pop-up restaurant is a fun way for a new chef to show the community how great their food is or for a restaurant to give their usual clients something new to experience. Pop-up restaurants can give food trucks a chance to have people experience a dine-in meal from them and could lead them to open a restaurant.

Pop-up restaurants are usually ticketed and will be promoted only a short time before the event. The chef or wait staff might be the ones promoting it on their social media accounts in order to get the word out about it. If you see one of these pop-ups advertised, make sure you go because they don’t come around often. 

Marigold's is a food truck in Kansas that will be having pop-up lunches in The Kitchen, which is part of the Lenexa Public Market.

Marigold's is a food truck in Kansas that will be having pop-up lunches in The Kitchen, which is part of the Lenexa Public Market. Source: Eventbrite

Diner.

A diner is a great place to get waffles, pancakes, or even a juicy homestyle burger. Many locals prefer diners for a more family feel approach where the wait staff might even know you by name if you frequent it enough. The table service is friendly and fast which is a great place to get a family dinner or catch up with an old friend.

Waffle House has kept its same look since opening in 1955 to bring a nostalgic breakfast feel.

Waffle House has kept its same look since opening in 1955 to bring a nostalgic breakfast feel. Source: Waffle House Facebook

Farm-to-Table.

As more people become health conscious about where the food they eat actually comes from, the farm-to-table concept becomes more popular. Rather than ordering food that is shipped to them or traveling on trucks for long periods of time, these restaurants will use local farmers and producers to stock their kitchens trying to make the freshest food possible for its consumers.

The Naked Farmer is a farm-to-table restaurant, with locations in Florida, that wants to promote sustainable, healthy eating in its space.

The Naked Farmer is a farm-to-table restaurant, with locations in Florida, that wants to promote sustainable, healthy eating in its space. Source: The Naked Farmer Facebook

Pubs/Bars.

Bars and pubs are convenient for people who are already planning on going somewhere to have a drink with friends. They offer more fast food items like burgers, fries and wings to make sure no one is waiting on their food for too long. Bars are supposed to be fast and provide more shareable items with bigger groups of people. They are menu items that pair well with beverages and make it easier for the consumer to stay longer. Bars and pubs will usually have specials throughout the week, too.

Other Ways To Categorize Restaurants

When people can’t think of what kind of restaurant atmosphere they are going for that night, they will narrow down their search based on formality, price, and the type of food. Most search engines have even made this easier for you by narrowing it down to how many dollar signs a restaurant might have and what cuisine category it's in. Some search engines that narrow down the restaurant details are Yelp, OpenTable, and Resy.

Formality.

The formality of a restaurant is important to know so you don’t show up in flip-flops if they require black-tie. Athleisure and relaxed personal styles have become more popular recently, but there are still many restaurants that won’t let you if you’re wearing a t-shirt and baseball hat. Usually the high-end restaurants require a nicer dress code (or you might just feel inclined to dress nicer to match the atmosphere). 

If the menu items have a higher price, assume that you should dress a little nicer. Casual dining usually means you can dress up or down as much as you want. Jeans are usually acceptable. When it comes to formal dining, most people are expected to wear suits and even dresses to make sure the experience is kept for all the consumers that are dining there too. Formal restaurants take a lot of pride in their experience along with having quality food, so if you show up right after you go to the gym they probably won’t let you dine in.

Price.

Restaurant prices will depend on what type of food they are serving and where they are located. Instead of being surprised when you get to a restaurant, search engines have made things easier by using a dollar sign next to its name to show how expensive it is. This range shows how much a usual meal or serving might be for the restaurant at a glance.

Different web browsers provide price ranges for restaurants.

Fast food restaurants are in the more inexpensive category because they are just trying to give you your food, while the fine-dining restaurants are in the expensive category because of the quality of ingredients and the experience. 

The price of a restaurant can even be determined by the city it is in. High-tourism cities and state capitals usually have more expensive restaurants. Restaurants are also more expensive in a city rather than a rural part of the country depending on the people who live in the area. Another factor for the price of restaurants is if they only serve high-quality ingredients or farm-to-table food they will most likely be in the moderate price range because it is more expensive to run it. 

Type of food served.

If you’re in the mood for a certain type of food, that will ultimately decide where you want to eat. There are new types of food appearing in the restaurant world all the time like completely plant-based or making sure they are using sustainable resources to make their food. The eight most popular types of restaurants in the U.S. are pizza, Italian, Chinese, burgers, BBQ, seafood, steakhouses, and sandwich shops. The cuisine capitals of the US include Detroit for pizza and Memphis for BBQ. 

This map is based on restaurant visits in that particular city.

This map is based on restaurant visits in that particular city. Source: Thrillist

Conclusion

Restaurants have a wide range of categories including fine dining, pop-ups, concession stands and even virtual kitchens. If you don’t want to narrow down your search just by the type of restaurant, the easiest thing to do is figure out what type of cuisine you’re feeling and how much you want to spend on the meal. These two will ultimately let you know what is for breakfast, lunch or dinner that day. No matter what type of food or restaurant feel you are trying to have, it is out there. And if you can’t find it, maybe it is time for you to start your own!

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