A Guide to Counter Service Restaurants – Culinary Business Strategy

by Deagon B Williams

There are a few different types of counter service restaurants in today’s market. Historically, we think of counter service restaurants as the Woolworth’s lunch counter.  Many menu items on these old-school counter service restaurants were things familiar from home, that one’s mother, wife, or oneself might prepare. The food served was common and straight forward, and luxury of eating there lay in not needing to prepare the food yourself, rather than in a menu of culinary delights.

Today, the notion and concept of counter service is very different. It is now an intentional design to create a social interaction and a sense of hospitality. The attraction for today’s counter service restaurants is an atmosphere created by the setting and the food.

The most obvious example of counter service restaurants is in a bar. We walk up to or sit at the bar for counter service.  The interaction with the bartender or server, as well as with other customers seated at the bar, creates an informal feeling of community. Another form of counter service restaurants is the cafeteria style whereby the customers follow along the front of the food line and choose their food or drink.  This can feel more institutional in style, but has been re-worked recently in airports and large shopping areas to feel more like a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the main terminal or the concourse area of the mall.

Additionally, there is a newer form of counter service whereby we walk up to a counter and order our drink or food and are then given a number stand. This number stand sits on our chosen table and our food or drink is brought to the table once prepared. This is a type of modified counter service in restaurants. It expedites the process, as well creates more interactions and opportunities for stellar customer service to shine through.

However counter service is employed in modern restaurants, it should be selected as a serving method when it best supports the brand and concept of the restaurant. Counter service works best for informal settings, looking to enhance a feeling of homey-ness.

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