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Types of restaurants: a guide to restaurant models and concepts

Feeding people is big business. As evidence, the National Restaurant Association estimates that the industry’s 2023 sales will reach $997 billion, and Yelp data shows restaurant openings up 10% this year. In response to recent challenges—from pandemic closures to rising food prices and labor shortages—restaurants have explored new ways of serving patrons. That adaptability is paying off. For entrepreneurs, this is an exciting time to open or grow a restaurant.

This article will cover some of the best options for starting and running a restaurant business, including:

Restaurant models

Choosing the right restaurant model is an early decision every new restaurateur must make. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind before you hit the ground running.

What is a restaurant model?

The restaurant model describes the operational structure of the restaurant, the kind of space it works out of, and how customers are typically served. The restaurant model you select will affect some key features of how you run your business, including:

  • Your operational costs
  • The type of space you’ll occupy
  • The number of staff to hire
  • The types of job roles to fill

Common types of restaurant models

Restaurant models typically fall into 6 main categories, but they’re not all mutually exclusive. It’s common for restaurants to combine more than one of these models. Here are the main restaurant models to consider for your business:

Table service

Restaurants with table service are those where patrons can show up in person and sit at a table where a waiter takes their order. Servers bring the food and drinks to the customers, then the waiter brings the check for them to pay at the end.

Table service can take a few forms. Most commonly, each patron selects and orders their own entree. But at small-plate or family-style restaurants, everyone at the table can select a few dishes to share. Table service has also evolved in recent years to include new types of technology, such as QR codes and virtual menus, that can reduce how often employees interact with patrons.

When considering whether to offer table service at your restaurant, consider these important factors:

  • The dining experience. For customers, the benefit of table service over other options is the dining experience. Being waited on can make a meal feel special. Think about how to create a comfortable dining space with a pleasant atmosphere that also allows servers the space they need to maneuver easily.

  • Overhead costs. Table service requires finding commercial real estate with plenty of space for tables and chairs, as well as for the kitchen. Plus, you need servers, managers, and possibly hosts, along with back-of-house staff, which adds to your overall costs.

  • Hiring servers. Good servers are essential to creating a good table service experience. The recent labor shortage in the restaurant industry can make finding and keeping enough servers challenging.

  • Unpredictable risks. In-person dining often drops in response to unpredictable factors. It took a hit during the pandemic, but it can also be affected by more common issues, like a big storm. Many restaurants with table service now employ a hybrid model—offering some combination of table service, pickup, and delivery—to withstand these kinds of challenges.

Counter service

At counter service restaurants, a customer usually places their order with a cashier at a counter. When the food is ready, the customer either picks it up at the counter or an employee takes it to them. Counter service restaurants typically offer easy to-go and pickup options as well. This type of establishment will generally provide enough dining space for customers who might want to hang out and eat there, but these customers are less likely to do so.

Removing table service from the equation can reduce labor costs and allow you to serve each customer faster. While the counter service restaurant model costs less in terms of restaurant overhead, the more casual nature means customers expect lower costs as well.


Buffet restaurants offer an all-you-can-eat, self-service model where diners can choose from a variety of food options. These are common in hospitality industries like hotels, casinos, and conference centers.

For customers, buffets offer the benefit of simple pricing (a flat fee for each person), the ability to try multiple dishes in one sitting, and the luxury of eating as much as you want. For restaurant owners, they can reduce labor and inventory challenges. There’s less need for table service, since diners serve themselves. And the kitchen makes the same dishes in similar quantities each day, rather than making each individual meal to order.

Buffets were a restaurant model severely affected by the pandemic, causing some people to predict their demise. However, they’ve shown surprising staying power. Many buffet-style restaurants are still profitable.

The model does come with a few main considerations to keep in mind, particularly:

  • Sanitation concerns. With many customers accessing the same food dishes with the same serving utensils, buffets face a bigger challenge with maintaining sanitation than most restaurants.

  • Food safety. Buffets must take special care to ensure that all foods are kept at the right temperatures to stay safe to eat when left out for long periods.

  • Food waste. Making large quantities of each dish to put out can lead to more food waste, especially if you’re miscalculating the portion sizes for each guest.

  • Pricing. Finding the right price point to keep buffets profitable can be tricky. You have to account for customers with big appetites who are out to get their money’s worth.

Drive-through and pickup

Restaurant drive-throughs work by letting customers review a menu posted outside the restaurant, place their order through a microphone, then pick it up at a window when it’s ready—all without leaving their car. For pickup orders, sometimes called takeout, customers can place an order online or over the phone, then show up to get it a few minutes later. Some restaurants take pickup orders out to customers in their car, and some offer a designated pickup area to make sure the process is fast and easy for customers.

Sometimes customers are in a hurry or simply not in the mood for the dine-in experience, which makes drive-through and pickup options a popular restaurant model. These choices are frequently offered in combination with another restaurant model. Drive-throughs are popular at fast-food restaurants, which usually provide space for customers who want to eat there as well. And pickup orders are a common option at many restaurants that offer table and counter service.

Food truck and pop-up restaurant

Food trucks run a commercial kitchen out of a vehicle and serve food to customers from the truck window. Food trucks can move locations to serve different customer bases over time.

Pop-up restaurants are temporary and work out of a borrowed location for a limited period. They can be located in an existing restaurant location on a day it’s usually closed, a chef’s house, an arcade, an outdoor market—anywhere it can get permission to set up shop.

Food trucks and pop-up restaurants are restaurant models that let you skip much of the expense of commercial real estate. Both options can function with fewer employees than traditional restaurant models require. That vastly reduces the overhead costs for starting and running a restaurant. These are popular options for entrepreneurs new to the restaurant industry or for chefs wanting to test a restaurant concept before making a bigger investment.


This relatively new restaurant model has gained popularity since the early days of the pandemic. Delivery-only restaurants don’t offer any space for dining in, instead exclusively serving customers who want food delivered.

Delivery-only restaurant models take 2 main forms:

  • Virtual restaurants. These restaurants use the kitchen space of an existing brick-and-mortar restaurant location but sell food under a distinct brand. An existing restaurant can use a virtual restaurant to increase its profit potential by serving new customers or expanding the dayparts they serve without substantially increasing costs.

  • Ghost kitchens. These restaurants work out of a commercial kitchen space that exists exclusively for pickup and delivery orders, meaning customers aren’t provided a space to sit down and eat. Ghost kitchens often use shared commercial kitchen spaces that create food for multiple brands in one location.

Both of these options have the benefit of much lower overhead costs. The main downside of the delivery-only model is that you lose out on any potential customers who prefer the dine-in experience. Plus, marketing your restaurant and building a brand around it can be challenging. Often, restaurants that use a delivery-only model find most (if not all) of their customers through third-party delivery platforms like Uber Eats. The ability to tap into a large customer base through one main app can simplify your marketing strategy, while the lower operating costs involved can net meaningful profits.

Restaurant concepts

The restaurant concept you choose affects many aspects of running your restaurant successfully. Here are the main things you need to know to select the right restaurant concept.

What is a restaurant concept?

The restaurant concept helps clarify what the restaurant experience will be. The concept you choose will affect how customers view your restaurant and what they expect from each interaction they have with the brand. Clarifying your restaurant concept involves thinking through:

  • What the in-restaurant atmosphere will be like
  • How formal or casual your restaurant will be
  • The type of cuisine you serve
  • The price point of your cuisine
Casual dining

Casual-dining restaurants are designed primarily to prioritize the dine-in experience. They usually offer table service, and the menu is generally a bit nicer in quality and higher in cost than it would be at fast-food or fast-casual restaurants. That means you can charge more for the food, but your operating costs are likely to be a bit higher also.

Within casual dining, you’ll find a variety of price points, cuisine options, and restaurant atmospheres. For example, this category includes:

  • Contemporary casual restaurants that provide trendy dining options like craft cocktails or a farm-to-table sensibility.

  • Bistros, the French-inspired restaurant style that offers quality, hearty food options at a lower price point than fine dining.

  • Cafes and coffee shops that sell simple foods like sandwiches and pastries and provide comfortable seating where customers can linger.

  • Pubs and breweries that not only emphasize drinks and a pleasant atmosphere to hang out in but also offer a menu of food to go along with the beverages.

One benefit of starting a casual-dining restaurant is that you can attract the people who want the familiar experience of dining out with friends and family but are more price-conscious. Plus, you can offer delivery and takeout service to attract customers who want convenience as well.

Fine dining

Fine dining describes high-end restaurants that provide a more formal dining experience at a higher price point than the other restaurant concepts described above. Fine-dining restaurants typically employ well-regarded chefs, use the finest ingredients, and create an exclusive atmosphere for customers to enjoy. These restaurants have the benefit of prestige and the potential for big profits, but the high costs limit your customer base to people with enough disposable income or a willingness to splurge on the experience.

Choosing to start a fine-dining restaurant presents unique challenges, because you’ll be serving more exacting customers. You’ll need to find the right chef, kitchen staff, and servers who have the skills and experience to meet high standards. Plus, it’s important to research whether fine dining makes sense in the geographic area you choose. A small town in a rural area may not have enough customers to support a fine-dining establishment, for instance.

How to grow any type of restaurant with Uber Eats

Regardless of what type of restaurant you choose to start, you can expand your reach and improve the customer experience by partnering with Uber Eats for your delivery needs. We work with a variety of restaurants, from local businesses to large global brands. Plus, we offer support to restaurants wanting to expand into virtual restaurant models and help advise on the best strategy for doing so. How you choose to partner with Uber Eats is entirely up to you. Based on the goals you’re trying to reach, you may decide to:

  • Join the Uber Eats marketplace. Your restaurant will show up on the app that millions of users regularly turn to when they’re hungry.

  • Use Uber Direct. Receive orders directly from your app or website or by phone, and get your goods delivered with Uber's global courier network.

And note that you don’t have to choose between the 2 services. Many restaurants opt to use both—increasing their reach through the Uber Eats marketplace, while providing fast, convenient delivery under their own brand with Uber Direct.

Running a restaurant comes with many challenges. Uber Eats can take some of them off your plate. Get started today.

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