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Which Service Model Is Best For You?

Service models dictate everything about a restaurant: How to prepare, present and distribute food; what technology best facilitates daily operations; staff size and responsibilities; and how to handle rising labor costs and higher minimum wage. Since your service model determines so much about how the business runs, choosing the right one requires a great deal of consideration.

Table or Counter Service

Most commonly, restaurants use one of these models. Full-service restaurants typically prefer table service, where hosts greet guests and servers take orders and bring out food; guests can either pay at the table with applicable hand-held devices or servers can take payments to the POS terminal. Since this is pretty standard, servers don’t need as much training on this as they might with other models.

Quick-service restaurants, or QSRs generally use counter service instead, wherein customers order, pay and receive food at the counter. This significantly reduces labor costs because staff is cross-trained to operate both front and back of the house; however, workers don’t receive tips so you must pay your employees better wages with this model in place.

Fast-Fine Service

Businesses have innovatively blended these most commonly used models in search of lower costs and higher profits. Fast-fine service, for example, has hosts greet customers who then order from the counter, get a number and sit at a table until staff delivers their food to them. This not only improves table turn time but reduces labor costs since you really only need cashiers, hosts, cooks, bartenders and food runners.

Similarly, continued service lets guests decide if they want to sit down or order from the counter. Servers walk the floor with handheld POS devices that can help any customer, which makes ordering easy and improves speed and accuracy. Guests can also pay on the handheld devices, further hastening the process and improving table turn time.


Counter, fast-fine and continued service models become even more efficient with the help of self-service kiosks; when customers self-order and -pay, cashiers’ lines shrink, overall service speeds up and labor costs lessen. Thus businesses that employ these kiosks can afford to pay their staff well and offer competitive benefits. Happy employees work harder, leading to more profits.

Prixe Fixe Service

Other restaurants use a variation, not a blend, of table and counter service models. Prixe fixe service, for example, offers multiple courses with little or no customization. These menus rotate daily, weekly, monthly or seasonally. Fewer dishes mean less inventory, prep and cooking time, which improves productivity and lets the front of house focus on customer satisfaction instead of taking down complicated order modifications. This model also produces bigger tickets than usual because at most meals, guests don’t get multiple courses.

Build-Your-Own Service

On the opposite end of the spectrum from prixe fixe, build-your-own service has menus that break down individual dishes. By laying out ingredients instead of full meals, guests can customize everything; think Chipotle, Blaze Pizza and Subway as prime examples of build-your-own service models.

Buffet Service

Buffet service combines customization with self-service; customers have open, unlimited access to as much food as they’d like. To maximize profit, organize the buffet line in such a way that customers who eat more than their money’s worth balance out those who don’t eat enough. Good tips for this include using small plates so people have to make more trips back and forth, and placing cheaper items at the front of the line so plates fill up before they reach the expensive dishes. Although this method involves fewer front of house employees (thus cheaper labor costs), inventory becomes more difficult because you have to track by weight, not plate.


All-you-can-eat can function as a service model or a simple promotion. For example, offering a weekly “bottomless dish” can significantly boost profits, especially if you choose meals with cheap ingredients and cross-train staff to help back of house with the extra workload. This promotion encourages guests to come back and doubles as good exposure for you.

Small Plate Service

Small plate service works similarly to the all-you-can-eat model; restaurants employing this model can either serve food tapas style so guests order many, smaller dishes to share with the whole table or alternatively serve dim sum. Servers push cartfuls of food around and guests ask for items as they see them.

Small plate service fosters efficiency and inventory because the kitchen can make huge portions rather than cooking small amounts for individual orders.

When choosing a restaurant service model, first decide how you want your restaurant to look and run, where you’ll cut costs, what food to serve and your ideal clientele. These questions have no right or wrong answers but they will dictate which service model best fits your particular needs. If you don’t know which to choose, asking yourself these questions is a good place to start.

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