10 Restaurant Service Models & How to Provide Excellent Service

Hospitality is among the most important elements in the restaurant industry, making customer service essential for success. Regardless of whether a restaurant has high quality ingredients, they cannot attract and keep loyal patrons if they have poor customer service.

Owners must take the time to choose the appropriate restaurant service model and train their employees to provide excellent customer service. From counter service cafes to table service fine dining, there are various service models to streamline the ordering, food preparation, and transaction processes.

10 Restaurant Service Models

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First and foremost, a restaurant service model is the method used to prepare, present, and distribute foods to consumers. By choosing the most profitable service model, restaurants can create an efficient workflow to streamline food delivery and table turnover.

While the two most common models are table and counter service, there are several other options that food service establishments can use-

Table Service

Table service is most commonly seen in full-service restaurants, where guests are seated at a table and given time to look over the menu. The server takes the customers' drink orders first and returns later to gather their meal requests. Once the order is ready, either the server or runner delivers the food and occasionally checks in to see if anyone needs refreshments or has any concerns.

After the guests finish their meals, the server drops off the final check where they make their payment via-

  • Tabletop Tablet
  • Mobile Payment
  • Counter POS Station

When the bill is paid, guests are able to leave, enabling bussers to clean the table and the process starts over again.

As this is the standard service model for traditional restaurants, both employees and customers are already accustomed to its stages, requiring less extensive training. However, this model also tends to have high labor costs as it requires full front and back of house staff.

Counter Service

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Another, less formal, model is counter service, where customers line up at the counter to place and pay for their order. Each guest is assigned an order number that is called by the kitchen staff once it is ready. After retrieving their meals, customers can seat themselves or take their orders to-go.

The counter service model was exclusively used by fast-food establishments but is now used in more restaurant types to minimize labor costs. Employees are cross-trained to work the front and back of the house as food runners and cashiers. The menus are also typically much smaller, reducing the labor necessary to track and order inventory.

However, counter service does not require customers to tip their servers, and therefore owners must compensate their workers fairly. This model can be seen in various establishments, such as McDonald's, Panera, and Raising Canes.

Continued Service

The continued service model relies on restaurant software to orchestrate the dining experience.

When customers first enter the establishment, they are greeted and given menus. Once they have decided their order, guests can choose to place their request at the counter or find a table.

Servers deliver the food and drinks to the table and keep a portable point-of-sale (POS) tablet on hand in case customers have additional orders. This enables guests to place their orders with any employee instead of relying on one server.

Handheld POS systems improve order accuracy as guests can glance over their order before servers digitally send it to the kitchen staff. It also allows customers to pay their bill right at their table, reducing wait times.

All You Can Eat

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Although it sounds similar to buffet service, the all you can eat model consists of specific promotions rather than a consistent option. For example, Olive Garden offers an occasional Never Ending Pasta Bowl where customers can enjoy bottomless pasta dishes. By providing these special promotions, restaurants can significantly increase foot traffic and sales.

This model provides more work for the front-of-house staff, generating more tips and opportunities for up-sells. However, the all you can eat model tends to have slower table turnover times, elongating customer wait times.

Hybrid Service

The hybrid service model, also known as half-service, is the medium between table and counter service. Guests are initially seated at a table by the hostess but have to place their order at the counter. Then they are given a table number so servers can deliver their orders once the dishes are ready.

With the half-service model, restaurants only need cashiers, kitchen staff, and runners, creating minimal labor costs. Restaurants can also experience faster table turnover than traditional models.

Small Plates Service

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Small plates service typically has three two subcategories- tapas or meze and dim sum. The tapas model is similar to table service, except the server delivers multiple rounds of small dishes over the course of one meal. This makes ordering a bit more complicated, especially for guests who have not experienced the meze model.

The method originated from Spain, where small dishes were free as long as customers ordered beverages. However, the American version still charges guests for the dishes, reducing food costs. For the meze method, it is vital to not overcharge the small dishes and carefully craft them.

On the other hand, dim sum is a Chinese service method where guests are given multiple rounds of small dishes, such as dumplings, vegetables, and noodles. Instead of placing orders, servers roll carts around the restaurant with already prepared dishes so guests can collect the items they want immediately.

The dim sum service model enables the kitchen staff to prepare large batches of dishes at one time, improving ordering and inventory efficiency. However, if chefs overproduce certain meals, it can lead to excessive food waste.


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The self-service model generally utilizes kiosks where guests can order and pay for their items without employee intervention. This is seen in many fast-food chains, such as McDonald's and Shake Shack.

Self-service kiosks eliminate the need for servers and cashiers, minimizing labor costs. However, some establishments fear that this method takes away from the hospitality aspect of the restaurant industry. On the other hand, some restaurants feel it streamlines the transaction process, improves order accuracy, and creates a pleasant customer experience.

Buffet Service

There are buffet style service models that take the all you can eat method to the extreme. Many hotels and restaurants use the buffet model to minimize labor and inventory tracking costs.

However, establishments must be weary of super-diners who take advantage of the all you can eat style and dip into the profits. Restaurants can offset this impact by increasing the plate charge, using smaller platters, and placing the least expensive ingredients at the front of the line, which will influence guests to fill their plates at the beginning, leaving little room for the more costly items.

Restaurants wanting to implement buffet service need to carefully calculate their food costs to determine the best pricing strategy.

Prix Fixe Service

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Prix fixe is French for fixed-price, meaning a restaurant has one or two set menus each evening that does not allow any customizations. Some establishments rotate the menus daily, but typically they are switched weekly, monthly, or seasonally.

The prix fixe method is used in fine dining restaurants that offer multi-course menus. This model is great for the kitchen staff as it only offers select dishes, streamlining inventory counts, food prep, and cooking.

When pricing prix fixe menus, restaurants must calculate their food cost and reduce the initial price by 10%. This reduction is made up for tenfold as customers order multiple dishes under this method.

Build-Your-Own Service

From sandwich shops to pizza joints, the build-your-own service model offers customers the unique ability to customize their meals as they are being prepared.

This method is used by startups, fast-food chains, and full-service restaurants alike, requiring tentative servers to listen to guests' orders. Because this model is based around personalization, customers can become upset if their orders are incorrect. Therefore, staff must pay special attention to each visitor to ensure they are fulfilling their request accurately.

When determining the cost, restaurants must study each ingredient's demand and price to limit spoilage and increase profits.

5 Ways to Provide Excellent Customer Service

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Regardless of the type of service model restaurants choose, they must prioritize their customer service. By actively driving customer satisfaction, restaurants can increase revenue and retention rates.

While there are various ways restaurants can improve their customer service, owners should consider the best practices-

1. Give a Great First Impression

Although food quality is vital, customers receive their first impression of a brand from their greeters and appearances. Therefore, restaurants need to begin their customer service immediately when guests enter the building. To do this, employees should focus on two things-

Speaking Appropriately

  • Greet guests immediately when they walk through the entrance.
  • Use the appropriate titles, such as sir, ma'am, and miss.
  • Do not interrupt speaking customers.
  • Listen and pay attention when guests are speaking.
  • Understand the menu in its entirety to answer questions and give the correct orders.

Practicing Etiquette
  • Serve the guests of honor first, otherwise begin with the women, men, then children.
  • Serve and remove plates to the customer's left.
  • Serve and refill drinks from the right.
  • Create a system to remember which dish goes to each guest and refrain from calling out the orders.
  • Never pressure guests to leave early.
  • Do not make guests ask for the check. The check should be delivered promptly after the meals are finished.

2. Don't Make Guests Wait

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Guests that have to wait too long to be seated, receive their meal, or pay can become frustrated. This can greatly impact a brand's reputation and customer advocacy.

Restaurants should have enough staff on-hand to seat, takes orders, fulfill requests, bus tables, and complete transactions. Otherwise, customers could be waiting due to insufficient staffing rather than increased demand.

Servers should prioritize the speed of service without sacrificing quality. If certain meals are taking longer than expected, guests should be notified in advance so they can determine if they want to switch their order. It is also vital to keep the service quality consistent for each visit and location, so customers know exactly what to expect.

3. Resolve Issues Immediately

Restaurants must handle customer complaints promptly to avoid larger problems and negative reviews. Regardless if the complaint is valid or not, employees should be attentive to the customer. To deal with guest problems, staff should-

  • Listen and avoid interrupting.
  • Acknowledge the problem, own the mistake, and apologize.
  • Stay calm, even when not in agreeance with the customer.
  • Maintain eye contact and be careful of body language.
  • Ask the customer what they think the solution should be and negotiate if needed.
  • Refrain from placing the blame and try to empathize.
  • Solve the problem quickly and quietly.

4. Utilize Comment Cards

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By placing comment cards on each table, customers can rate their experience and provide suggestions. This shows guests that the restaurant values their opinion and wishes to improve their customer service.

Comment cards help restaurants pinpoint their strengths and weakness in various areas, such as-

  • Cleanliness
  • Food Quality
  • Hospitality
  • Speed of Service
  • Menu Selection

5. Implement Technology

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Restaurants can incorporate modern technology to improve their efficiency, accuracy, and customer service. Depending on the type of restaurant, businesses should consider offering-

  • Online Ordering
  • Kiosk Ordering
  • Table Tablets
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Game Tablets

Establishments should also consider utilizing inventory management software to automate their stock counts and improve ordering strategies.

Inventory solutions automate cycle counts so restaurants can monitor the turnover rates, profit margins, and stock levels of each ingredient. This enables management to determine which items contribute the most and least to the bottom line. It also ensures accurate purchase orders to avoid overstocking ingredients, which can lead to food waste.