Casual Dining, Fine Dining, and Fine Casual Dining

Table of Contents

People have many options for dining out, whether they live in a big city, a small town, or the countryside. Traditional restaurants, cafés, bistros, diners, and fast-food joints remain popular choices.

Not to mention restaurant operations located in many hotels. We can decide between a place to sit down for a fancy meal and going through a drive-thru to pick something up quickly.

Casual dining, fine dining, and fine casual dining are all options that are available in cities and towns across America. But what do they actually look like? We'll cut through the restaurant lingo and break down the similarities and differences between these three styles of dining.

Connecting People

In a post-pandemic world, people will be more enthusiastic than ever about visiting their local restaurants. Families will unite to celebrate a special occasion. Friends will meet for a few drinks after work. Restaurants will remain places for people of all walks of life to gather.

As always, there are factors that will affect people's choice of where to dine. Consider the following list when coming up with restaurant marketing ideas:

  • Dining alone or with a group of people, possibly children.
  • How much time they have to eat.
  • The amount of money they’re willing to spend.
  • What kind of service they’d like to receive.
  • The ambiance of the restaurant.

Depending on the type of restaurant you run, you'll want to focus your restaurant marketing on connecting with the right people for your dining establishment.

Dining Styles

Depending on the situation, you have several styles of dining to choose from. Most people know what fast-food restaurants are, but what about casual dining and fine dining. There's also a more recent trend of dining called fine casual dining.

What do these terms mean? And what are the main differences between these three styles of dining? Let's define each one and provide some familiar examples of each type of restaurant.

What Is Casual Dining?

Casual dining describes a restaurant that serves reasonably priced food in a relaxed atmosphere. A casual dining establishment is considered a step above the quality of food and service you get from a fast-food place.

These are places where you can dress informally and plan on sitting at a table to eat. A server takes your order and delivers your food and drinks to your table. It's expected to leave a tip if satisfied with the quality of service provided to you.

Casual Dining Restaurant Examples

Some well-known examples of casual dining restaurants include:

  • Applebee’s
  • Buffalo Wild Wings
  • Denny’s
  • Hard Rock Café
  • Johnny Rockets
  • Olive Garden
  • Outback Steakhouse
  • Red Lobster
  • TGI Fridays

Buffet-Style Restaurants

A buffet-style restaurant is a form of casual dining without table service. The staff prepares food and drinks at stations where you choose your items.

Buffets offer all-you-can-eat food at a set price, but some measure food by weight and the number of dishes you select. It's an opportunity to sample new dishes without ordering an entire portion of food. It's similar to the a la carte meaning in that way. Golden Corral and Old Country Buffet are two well-known examples of buffet-style casual dining restaurants.

Fast-Casual Restaurants

Fast-casual restaurants don’t offer table service but provide consumers with freshly prepared and reasonably priced food. Some fast-casual restaurants present a trendy image, with options such as organic ingredients and fully updated menus.

Many of these restaurants offer the choice of dining in or ordering takeaway food. The experience can be similar to casual dining, depending on the establishment. But the prices of the dishes are more similar to a fast-food restaurant's menu.

Fast-casual options offer fewer processed or frozen ingredients in their dishes than a fast-food restaurant. The leading restaurants in this industry are growing at a much quicker pace than fast-food places. However, they have far fewer restaurants operating worldwide compared to fast-food chains.

Fast-Casual Dining Restaurant Examples

Some familiar examples of fast-casual restaurants include:

  • Boston Market
  • Five Guys
  • Panera Bread
  • Quiznos
  • Saladworks
  • Subway

What Is Fine Dining?

Fine dining includes restaurants that offer a higher quality experience and more formality than a typical restaurant.

A fine dining restaurant provides an elegant atmosphere. The restaurant manager oversees a large staff that serves food more formally than casual dining. They also have a higher level of expertise and training. Think of a well-dressed staff with excellent manners.

Some fine dining restaurants have a highly skilled chef to design the menu. Knowledgeable bar staff can suggest a cocktail, and a sommelier will recommend the best wine to compliment your dishes.

The food at a fine dining establishment is prepared with the highest quality of ingredients and presented formally. It means that the prices you pay will be higher because of the top ingredients, finely trained and knowledgeable staff, and the superb ambiance. You may also find the finest silverware and cutlery on the table, in addition to the fancy decor and interior design of the restaurant.

Fine dining restaurants may require a formal dress code for patrons. They don't permit informal clothing such as shorts, t-shirts, or denim in the restaurant. And if you dine and dash at one, you may face severe consequences.

Fine Dining Restaurant Examples

The World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards chooses a list of the best fine dining restaurants in the world each year. Here are the top ten fine dining restaurants in the world in 2021:

  • Noma (Copenhagen, Denmark)
  • Geranium (Copenhagen, Denmark)
  • Asador Etxebarri (Axpe, Spain)
  • Central (Lima, Peru)
  • Disfrutar (Barcelona, Spain)
  • Frantzen (Stockholm, Sweden)
  • Maido (Lima, Peru)
  • Odette (Singapore)
  • Pujol (Mexico City, Mexico)
  • The Chairman (Hong Kong)

Overall, fine dining exudes elegance and formality, with comfortable seating and pleasant music in the background. It's an appropriate setting for a business dinner, a romantic dinner, or a relaxing evening spent with friends.

What Is Fine Casual Dining?

Fine casual dining, or fast fine dining, refers to a restaurant that serves excellent food but doesn’t require formal attire for guests.

These restaurants combine the speed and convenience of a fast-casual restaurant with a chef-driven menu and other elegant features of fine dining restaurants. As people's lives get busier, they're in the market for places with high-quality menu items paired with a quick dining experience.

Fine casual dining offers a family-friendly atmosphere that differs from fine dining establishments. It enables families to eat high-quality food with a quick dining experience.

Fine Casual Dining Restaurant Examples

Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer first coined the phrase "fine casual dining." His establishment is part of this growing trend and includes other restaurants:

  • Capital Grille (nationwide chain)
  • Fresh to Order (Atlanta, Georgia)
  • Morton's The Steakhouse (nationwide chain)
  • Street's Fine Chicken (Dallas, Texas)

An Option for Everyone

Workers might want a quick bite on their lunch break. Maybe a couple wants to take their kids out for dinner. No matter what people are looking for, there are probably several options in your town that will satisfy everyone. As restaurants continue to innovate in the future and implement restaurant improvement ideas, there will always be hungry people interested in trying a new style of dining.