Full Service or Quick Service?


You more or less have two choices for your brick and mortar foodservice operation if you’re serving walk-in guests, either full service or quick service. There’s also an option for the buffet or cafeteria model but let’s stick to the two most common approaches.

Generally speaking quick service is considered super casual, pay before you eat dining without courses or servers and alcohol may or may not be available. Full service is the more formal experience of table service, place settings and a server or runner bringing everything to you.  Oftentimes cocktails, beer, and wine is available and the menu will have an array of appetizer, salad and main course choices including dessert. You pay after you’re finished with everything and a gratuity is customarily expected. Both are solid choices with full service revenues easily reaching multiple millions.

Which should you choose? It’s up to you!

If your vision is the full dining experience go for it. We’ve only operated in the quick service space because it was a natural and easy transition from our concession and drop-off catering background. Fast transactions with limited and easy to prep menus seemed to have worked out for us over the years so we’ve stuck with what works.  That’s not to say we don’t have any interest in a full service restaurant, in fact we have our dream restaurant idea bubbling away right now but there’s no rush there. Out of the people we know in the industry they’re equally split between full and quick service operators.  Each has its strengths and challenges and both still need to take into account location, hours of operation, price points and capacity to serve various or all dayparts. Both are risky and both can do very well so as you plan keep in mind what you’ve probably already run through your head:

Quick service offers immediate transactions via cash or credit cards and the ability to serve hundreds of people daily in a smaller footprint albeit with a lower check average.

Full service usually results in much higher check averages and the ability to serve hundreds of people daily with the right sized space.  If you have a liquor license there’s the added benefit  of margins on alcohol.

Quick service may be less expensive to open overall with respect to equipment and dining room outlays and you may get away with fewer overall personnel.

Full service kitchens may need more expensive outfitting and incur a bigger investment in the dining room and bar. Full service restaurants may need bussers and dishwashers in addition to the servers, hosts, bartenders and manager. However without getting into the wage discussion all over again some of these positions pay very well when you look at gratuity potential, easing the burden for the operator in that regard.

Going back to spaces the quick service restaurant can theoretically get away with a space of less than 1000 square feet and sometimes much smaller.  The lower rents and speed of carry out or a drive through gives that operator more bang for the buck.  The expectations from the public are generally more relaxed and the hours can be what she makes them.

With full service restaurants the rents may be higher with a larger space being necessary for enough seating, kitchen, bar, storage and perhaps an office.

Both operators must do the job of analyzing their business to figure out sales per day or hour needed to break even, reach profitability and adjust prices, employee scheduling and menu items to make things fit. Each carries the burden of high monthly energy costs with the full service operator usually on the higher side with more equipment and heating and cooling a larger space. Repairs and maintenance are forever looming for both as well.

Competition naturally comes into play for both full and quick service and the ability to differentiate your brand from others will need an honest yet bold approach in today’s climate.  Depending on the concept the full service operator can supplement his or her bottom line with carry-out, delivery service and if there’s room, the flexibility of hosting lucrative private events or corporate meetings. And since the kitchen is there anyway a full-time catering arm is always an option for a full service restaurant.

Being flexible and using caution with trends would be important for both operators as well.  Again, depending on the concept it’s possible to “age-out” of your target demographic or need to adjust to  changes in the economy and guest spending power.

It all comes down to maximizing what you have and having the math work for you.  For example say a  full service restaurant does $2,500,000 a year and the owner keeps 5% after everything. The quick service restaurant does $1,000,000 and that owner keeps 10%. The income is great for both so it comes down to cost to open, how many people you want to deal with, long term plans and ease of exit strategies. The ability to scale either one is there with and generally gets less expensive to do so with subsequent openings.

Whatever your lane, best of luck and go for it!



Mud Pie

1.5 quarts Jamocha Almond Fudge ice cream (or similar)

(1)  9″ graham cracker pie crust (or chocolate wafer)

(1) 9oz jar hot fudge sauce (room temperature)

3/4C heavy cream

1/4C slivered almonds

Keep ice cream in freezer until ready to use. Prepare crust, cool. When cool spread a thin layer of hot fudge sauce in bottom of crust. Freeze. When frozen, remove ice cream from freezer and let it soften slightly. Spoon ice cream into frozen crust, leveling it with a spoon. Freeze at least 90 minutes. Spread a generous layer of fudge sauce over ice cream. Freeze at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, whip cream. Mound cream around edge of pie in a wreath; put a dollop in the center. Sprinkle with almonds. Freeze at least 2 hours.






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