With thousands of restaurants across the US, – how do you stand out in this saturated market? Well, it all comes down to your restaurant concept. Hence why carving your niche is one of the first steps in opening a restaurant.

From cafes to fine dining, your restaurant concept is the roadmap to the details in your new business. What’s going to make your restaurant special? To answer this, it’s important to know the most popular types of restaurants. From here, you can make sure the niche you choose is able to distinguish itself in the market.

Below, we’ll go over 11 types of restaurants, highlight examples, and show you how to decide your niche.

What are the different types of restaurants?

Here is a brief list overview of the 11 most popular restaurant concepts.

1. Fast Casual

A fast casual restaurant concept is the perfect blend of fast food and casual dining. It offers the ease and convenience of fast food, but with high-quality ingredients. Menus feature customized selections and more complex flavors. Because of this, there is a higher average meal price compared to fast food.

Fast casual has a friendly sit-down atmosphere but does not offer full table service. These restaurants are booming in popularity at a rapid rate. Some examples include chains such as The Buffalo Spot and Ike’s Love & Sandwiches.

2. Fast Food

Fast food is the most familiar type of dining concept in the US. Usually, these restaurants are chains like McDonald’s or Taco Bell. The restaurant industry refers to fast food places as quick service restaurants (QSR). QSRs focus is primarily on speed and convenience. Also, keep in mind it is more expensive to open a franchise versus an independent restaurant.

3. Casual Dining

A casual dining restaurant is a full-service restaurant with a fun, laid-back atmosphere. A few industry leaders are Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings. Casual dining restaurants offer extensive affordable menus, often with alcohol, appetizers, and entrees. This makes the average check size higher than fast casual dining. Patrons are more likely to eat and spend more with wider menu options. Additionally, with full service, guests are greeted and sat by a host and then waited on by a server.

4. Fine Dining

Today’s fine dining restaurants offer an upscale ambiance and a high-end experience. This type of restaurant features precise attention to detail and exceptional service. With that in mind, fine dining typically has the most expensive pricing. Guests are paying for more than the food, they’re paying for the whole experience.

Restaurants at this level offer top-shelf wine, spirits, and food. Oftentimes there will be a formal dress code and fine dining etiquette enforced. Each fine dining restaurant is unique, providing something that others can’t – take The GrandView Restaurant for example (pictured below). The GrandView is a classic fine dining steakhouse overlooking the Santa Clara Valley. People come for the view and stay for the impeccable service.

5. Bars & Pubs

Bar and pub restaurants are known for having a wide variety of alcohol and a lively atmosphere. These are often associated with watching sports, playing games, and live music. The biggest difference between the two is that pubs offer table service while bars don’t. But, many bars do act as casual dining restaurants or pubs during the day. At night, it then turns into a bar with limited seating. 

The most common types are Irish and British pubs. Check out Graham St. Pub & Patio for an eclectic menu of handcrafted cocktails and bites.

6. Contemporary Casual

This is the most recently developed concept, a branch off of fine dining restaurants. Contemporary casual restaurants are more popular in urban and metropolitan areas. What sets this concept apart from casual dining is that there is a focus on being a distinct brand. Concepts like organic and vegan cuisine can help build a contemporary casual restaurant. Locale Farm to Table Eatery is a great example of this. They have a passion for their community and supporting local farmers. This is how Locale differentiates itself as a contemporary casual restaurant.

7. Family-Style

Family-style dining is centered around sharing and creating connections. This type of restaurant concept stems from eating traditions around the world. For example, Filipino restaurant Villa Manila focuses on eating together with family-style dining. They offer Kamayan which is a Filipino tradition where people eat with their hands. It’s custom in their culture to be in a close-knit family and share dishes a la carte. Below, you can see a photo of what a Kamayan experience looks like.

This type of dining is a communal experience where guests serve themselves. Also known as “large-format dining” because the food is served on shareable platters.

8. Café or Bistro

A café or bistro restaurant is known for having an intimate and relaxed atmosphere. Many people enjoy going to these types of restaurants to work and socialize. Cafés specialize in coffee, espresso, tea, and small food items. Bistros are like cafés but may offer a wider variety of food options. Service in a café or bistro is over the counter and customers serve themselves when their order is ready.

9. Buffet

By definition, a buffet is a meal made up of several dishes from which guests serve themselves. Buffets allow guests to choose from an array of food options at a fixed price. This type of restaurant is associated with “all you can eat” and features either one or many cuisines.

10. Food Trucks

The food truck concept is essentially a mobile restaurant. With limited space, it’s common for food trucks to offer a limited menu focusing on a specific type of food. Food trucks are unique because they have the ability to move and travel to customers. Check out our customer Bleu Duck Kitchen’s food truck. It’s called The Duck Truck and features gourmet hot dogs, burgers, and egg rolls.

11. Pop-Ups

Looking to test out a new restaurant concept without the long-term commitment? If so, a pop-up restaurant would be the perfect solution for you. This concept comes from supper clubs, also known as secret restaurants.

Pop-up restaurants are only open for a limited amount of time and are set up in the most unexpected places. They are a growing trend among chefs and consumers because of their unique style. The type of service delivered will depend on the restaurant’s theme.

How to Choose Your Restaurant Niche

Restaurateurs must identify a niche to keep up in today’s market. So, what is a niche and how do you choose it? A niche is a specialized segment of the market for a particular type of food or concept. The most profitable restaurant niches are high on demand and low on competition. Your niche is specific to you and it’s what sets you apart from the competition.

The first step in choosing your niche is evaluating the local market. Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What kinds of restaurants already exist in my market?
  • Is there a specific type of restaurant missing that consumers want?
  • What style of restaurant would your market be best served by? Would another café be successful or is there a lack of fine dining restaurants?

This first set of questions will help you decide the type of restaurant you should pursue. From there, you can begin to narrow down what you want your niche to be.

Here are the top factors that will influence this:

  1. Target Market
  2. Customer Expectations
  3. Restaurant Branding
  4. Menu Offerings

As you think about these, continue to ask yourself – what can my restaurant provide that others can’t? You will need to do a thorough market analysis in your restaurant business plan. This will help you backup your restaurant niche and service concept.

Discover how to choose the branding for your restaurant here.

The next step

Starting a restaurant of any kind takes organization and time. As you can see from above, there’s a lot of work that goes into the process of choosing your concept and niche. Use this information to help you take the next step towards opening your new restaurant.

Stay on track with our ultimate checklist for opening a restaurant. Download the free resource below to get started today!

Opening a Restaurant Checklist