Do you want to start a restaurant business but you don’t know what restaurant model to follow? If YES, here are 50 best small restaurant business ideas. More people are beginning to eat out due to the fast paced and changing lives that they are forced to live that doesn’t give them time or the desire to cook. Asides from not wanting to cook, most do not want to have to deal with washing of dishes.
The convenience of buying meals has led to a tremendous increase in the number of food-service operations in the past four decades; and yet regardless of how many restaurants or food service businesses are in existence, there is still room for more entrepreneurs who are looking to come into the industry and make profit for themselves.
The food service industry in the united states is considered delicate because a large number of people are going to be consuming whatever the food business produces and so anyone intending to start a business in this industry usually has to apply for and get a food handler’s permit as well as deal with regular inspections from the local health department.
However, even though the food-service operation industry is quite lucrative, there are no guarantees that running a business in this industry will lead to success as you will need to work very hard to be able to make a living. It is important to note that most entrepreneurs going into this industry usually fail in their first year due to inadequate planning.
Asides from the fact that you will be dealing with many customers, you also will need to spend a lot of time in planning your menus, ensuring that the correct inventory and supplies are being ordered, manage those that you will recruit, create effective marketing campaigns, complete a wide range of paperwork and ensure that your restaurant complies with all the various regulations from local, state and federal regulatory authorities.
One of the best ways to know about the niche you intend to go into is to work for someone already in that niche; that way, you gain the experience that will enable you start your business with as less hitches as possible. Ensure that you have a well written business plan to guide your futuristic actions and decisions.
One thing you should note when looking to start a food-service operation is that your business will not appeal to everyone, so it is best to focus on a niche market that you know you can get and then forget about the others. You should decide who your target market will be amongst the many categories of customers – Generation Y, Generation X, Baby boomers, Empty Nesters and Seniors.
The service styles for restaurants are often classified into three major categories – quick service, midscale and upscale. Knowing your target market, your service style will give you an idea on the business concept that you should start planning towards. Below are 50 restaurant business ideas and models that you can consider.
50 Best Restaurant Business ideas and Models
- Seafood Restaurant
The fact that seafood is a risky restaurant business idea because its prices are always changing, quality varies and many of the seafood are seasonal doesn’t mean that this restaurant business idea isn’t worth looking into. When shopping for seafood for your restaurant, it is essential that the items are not only fresh but that they are of high quality so that you do not end up with unhappy customers. Seafood can be fried, broiled, baked and grilled, and so you can offer all these services in your restaurant or you can choose to offer a select few.
- Family-style Restaurants
These kinds of restaurants are usually aligned to families and can appeal to a whole lot of target market. Prices in these kinds of restaurants are usually fair but higher than a typical fast food restaurant, and the menu usually features a variety of meals in order to appeal to a wider range of the market. An entrepreneur going into this kind of business has to ensure that they invest in décor as most customers will often prefer to eat in the establishment rather than at home.
This type of restaurant is one where customers come in for quick, affordable and convenient meals. These kinds of restaurants are usually chains as they are almost always everywhere and its clientele usually feature those in the younger age groups as well as adults who have peculiar working patterns. Any entrepreneur looking to go into this niche will be competing against franchises and if you decide to buy a franchise in order to have leverage on customers, you should know that buying a franchise will be more expensive than starting an independent outlet.
A cafeteria is usually a small restaurant within or very close to a workplace or school and it is usually patronized by those within the workplace or school. In cafeterias, there is no table service as customers take whatever food they want and either pay for each item taken or a flat rate.
Chefs that cook in cafeterias usually cook certain defined meals and rarely cook anything extraordinary. In order to start this kind of business, you will need to meet with the management of a corporate organization or school. This is regarded as a safe business because there is always going to be a steady stream of customers.
This sort of restaurant serves mainly wine accompanied with food or snacks and can be found along highways or in suburbs. A tavern usually gives its customers local products and is perfect for those who want to wine, dine and have a place to sleep at a very affordable rate. In time past, taverns had a reputation for being seedy but if you run your tavern in a good location, then you will not need to worry about your tavern being perceived wrong. Because you will be offering a 3-in-1 service, you might spend more than an average restaurant.
- Sandwich Bar
A sandwich bar is regarded as an informal kind of restaurant where toasts, sandwiches and drinks are offered to guests. Some sandwich bars also offer other types of meals such as meat and salads. This restaurant is suitable for workers who are looking for a light meal during the day at an affordable price. In starting this kind of restaurant, you will need to have various sandwich recipes so that your customers can choose from a variety of options. You can serve regular beverages or smoothies as drinks.
- Restaurant Buffet
In this kind of restaurant, guests serve themselves from a variety of food displayed whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner. Most of these kinds of restaurants are usually found in hotels and the customer is expected to pay a fixed price regardless of how much they consume. The food served in this kind of restaurant can either be hot or cold. In starting this kind of restaurant, you must ensure that the hotel has a lot of guests so that you do not end up cooking meals that no one will consume.
This refers to a type of Italian restaurant where pizzas are usually the main meals served. Other sorts of meals that can be served at a pizzeria include fries, meats and mozzarella. This kind of restaurant has the settings of a regular restaurant and it is very popular in the United States.
In starting this kind of business, you must ensure that you have unique pizza recipes in order to stand out. Pizzerias are often chain restaurants as well and any entrepreneur looking to start the business either has to buy a franchise or run an independent outlet.
Trattorias are another kind of Italian restaurant which are regarded as very informal because the service is very casual. The cuisine is usually peculiar to the local region and the ingredients used are usually one high quality. Even though the quality of food and its quantity is usually on the high side, the price for the food is usually cheap. In starting this kind of business, you might not need to invest too much in décor and service but you will have to do so with the food you are offering.
These are usually small restaurants where hot beverages such as tea and coffee are served with light meals such as cakes and sandwiches. Cafes can either be limited to the neighbourhood in which it is operating or be distributed everywhere as part of a chain outlet. In starting this kind of business, you will be competing against other popular cafes and might either need to buy a franchise or run as an independent outlet.
- Pop-up Restaurant
These are temporary restaurants that often operate in odd places such as private homes, roofs of historic buildings, courtyards, former factory spaces and other such odd places. Pop-up restaurants also exist during festivals and concerts.
This kind of restaurant usually helps entrepreneurs to gain exposure for their skills especially in the field of hospitality while also allowing them to gain experience needed to attract investors. This kind of restaurant allows entrepreneurs to experiment without having to fear bankruptcy.
- Self-service Restaurant
These are informal restaurants where the customers have to serve themselves. Food here is not usually of the highest quality as the entrepreneurs usually focus on having quick meals at hand that customers especially those in a hurry can pick up. Self-service restaurants can be found anywhere from shopping centers, schools, supermarkets, hotels and in other such places.
- Snack Bar
A snack bar is a restaurant that serves low priced meals such as snacks, light meals and drinks. Most snack bars are usually located on beaches where other foods are also sold. Running this kind of business doesn’t usually require a substantial amount of investment and the entrepreneur can decide on the snacks that are to be served.
- Indian Restaurant
indian restaurants usually serve a variety of dishes that are native to India. Due to the fact that India has diverse ethnic and cultural groups, the spices, fruits, herbs and vegetables used are usually different thereby allowing for cuisines that vary from each other. The meals in India are also heavily influenced by religion and traditions where different dietary restrictions exist. Therefore in running an Indian restaurant, it is important that religion, culture and tradition are taken into cognizance.
Osterias are restaurants that are modeled after Italian dishes and so meals such as pasta and other grilled meals are usually served to customers who sit at shared tables. These kinds of restaurants are not too expensive and are seen as a place where one can get a great lunch without having to spend so much.
Depending on your location and the type of customers you intend to target, starting a food truck business can be considered a great investment. Asides from the fact that you can move the truck around in order to catch crowds during peak periods, you can also, unlike a brick and mortar establishments, move your truck to places where there are outdoor activities.
Food trucks can also be rented for special events especially for those who do not want to spend much hiring the services of a caterer for their occasion. The major investment will be the truck and the cooking equipment that you will need to start the business.
These kinds of restaurants usually have a westernized theme and the décor is designed with the comfort of the customers in mind. Steakhouses that serve upscale clients usually have a more formal atmosphere and may usually serve cuts of meat that are of a better quality than those served in midscale steakhouses. Also, upscale steakhouses usually charge their customers more.
- Ethnic Restaurants
Ethnic restaurants usually offer a variety of menu items and can be quick service restaurants or upscale places for customers to eat. The menu usually consists of ethnic dishes that are cooked in an American way as well as the authentic ethnic dishes. There are various kinds of ethnic restaurants in existence and they usually thrive in areas where there is diverse population or in thriving metropolitan cities where customers are more likely to try out other dishes other than the traditional American dishes.
- Fast Casual Restaurant
Fast casual restaurants are usually part of a chain and are quite similar to the fast food restaurant. However, the distinguishing factor with a fast casual restaurant is that most of the food served are prepared at the restaurant and even though they do not offer full table service; most usually offer their customers plates and cutleries that are not disposable. Also, the quality of food in a fast casual restaurant is always better than that of a fast food but lower than that of a casual dining.
- Casual Dining
This is the kind of restaurant where meals are not only moderately priced but one in which the atmosphere is casual. Casual dining restaurants usually provide its customers with table service except where the restaurant offers buffet service. Casual dining restaurants are often seen as a cross between fine dining restaurants and fast food restaurants. Most casual dining restaurants are usually part of a wider chain but this does not mean that there are no independent outlets.
- Fine Dining
This is a full service kind of restaurant where specific dedicated meal courses are being served to customers. The atmosphere is usually serene and the establishments usually have certain specific rules that they expect customers to follow, which might include a dress code. Even though dedicated meals are followed, the restaurant’s chef usually prepares a special meal. Fine dining restaurants are numerous and so in a bid to compete for the attention of the upper scale crowd, it must be seen to provide a certain quality of service.
A barbecue restaurant specializes in only barbecue style dishes. Due to the fact that the barbecues have to be cooked slowly, a lot of these kinds of restaurants usually open early. Most barbecue restaurants usually have one or more pitmasters who not only oversee the preparation and cooking of the barbecue but also ensures that the fire and temperature of the food are maintained.
Barbecue restaurants can either be large or small depending on the investment strength of the entrepreneur. There are barbecue chain restaurants in the United States and as an entrepreneur, you might either need to buy a franchise or operate as an independent outlet.
- Buffet and Smorgasbord
In this type of restaurant, customers are usually offered a selection of food at a price that is fixed. The food is usually served in trays around the bar and then customers with plates serve themselves. The restaurant in this case can decide to bring out an extensive or modest menu and the cuisine doesn’t have to follow a selected path as the restaurant’s servings could be eclectic. Some restaurants even focus on home cooking or cuisines from other countries.
- European Restaurant
This is a westernized restaurant that prepares European cuisines. The cuisines are usually diverse and distinct where the dishes are presented sequentially and served in an order – appetizer, main course and dessert. Even though the Europeans have similar meals with the Americans, a typical European restaurant will focus more on its traditional meal in order to be able to attract a specific set of customers.
- Destination Restaurant
A destination restaurant is usually one where customers have to travel far usually to another country to be able to dine in the restaurant due to the popularity of the restaurant. The restaurants are typical of a full service restaurant where customers have to sit and look through menus before they place orders for what they want.
- Tabletop Cooking
This kind of restaurant makes use of induction cookers, gas stoves as well as charcoal grills to prepare meals for its customers. The customers usually have control over how the appliance should be heated. The setting is usually typical to that of a casual dining setting. In this kind of restaurant, not all meals are served as customers are treated to a select course of meals. This is an easy investment for any entrepreneur that doesn’t have the capital to get standard equipment.
- Mongolian Barbecue
This has its origin from Taiwanese restaurants and is therefore not Mongolian neither are barbecues served. Customers usually choose their raw ingredients themselves from a display of meats and vegetables and put them into a bowl and then hands over this bowl to the chef who adds a choice sauce before grilling the ingredients. The grill is usually round shaped and as such two or more chefs can cook simultaneously. The meal is usually cooked quickly because the ingredients are always thinly sliced. Once the meal has been cooked, they are put back in a bowl and handed over to the customer.
This is a bar and restaurant where only quality beer and food are served with high prices paid for these meals. Even though typical pubs only serve drinks with food being secondary, gastropubs have effectively combined the two. Customers can have all the beers and ales they want as well as good meals to accompany these drinks.
- Teppanyaki-style Restaurant
This is a grill like affair reminiscent of the Japanese cuisine where a charcoal stove is used to grill the meals of customers. Customers usually have to sit around the grill and watch the chef prepare their food order. The chef is usually tasked with entertaining the guests while grilling. These kinds of restaurants are usually part of those specializing in serving Japanese cuisine; however there are many stand-alone teppanyaki-style restaurants.
- Concession Stand
A concession stand refers to a snack bar that is situated where there is high foot traffic – amusement parks, cinema, fair, stadiums or other such entertainment centers where customers can purchase snacks or food. Concession stands usually charge higher for their meals because they are conveniently close to an attraction especially as most attraction places do not allow customers bring in their own meals or drinks plus they also generate a significant revenue for the event operator.
A diner is a small fast food restaurant that offers customers a wide range of foods. Diners, unlike fast food restaurants stay open for 24 hours especially in busy cities and towns. Most of its customers are those that patronize bars and night shift workers. The atmosphere is usually casual and meals are often simple, grilled or easy to cook and quite cheap as well. In starting this kind of business, you should expect to work round the clock in order to be able to meet the expectations of your customers.
- Dining Car
A dining car is a railroad passenger car where meals are served just like in any full service restaurant where customers have to sit down. The dining car is different from other railroad services where the full service restaurant style is not replicated. Most ingredients used in this kind of restaurant are often fresh. A dining car serves to enhance the restaurant experience of the customer especially those traveling on medium and long distance trains.
- Drive-through Restaurant
A drive through restaurant is one where customers get to order their food through a microphone without having to leave their cars. Customers expect regular and convenient meals when using a drive through and might stay in their parked car to eat or drive away with their order. Most drive-through restaurants are attached to a fast food restaurant but this does not mean that it cannot be run as an independent business.
- Greasy Spoon
Greasy spoon refers to restaurants that are cheap and small and specialize in serving its customers fried foods such as pancakes, fried eggs, hamburgers, omelettes, bacon, hash browns, deep fried chicken, waffles and sausages. Other foods such as soup, toasts and baked beans are usually offered as well. Where full meals are served, a special price has to be paid for it. This kind of restaurant is not so expensive to start up as customers are not expecting anything over the top.
A hot dog stand is a food business where hot dogs are sold from an external counter. A hot dog stand can be permanent or semi-permanent. Most hot dog stands are usually located in public places with lots of foot traffic such as stadium and shopping mall. While a hot dog stand might not be moveable, a hot dog cart and truck are usually moveable and have a higher advantage because they can move to where the crowd is.
- Japanese Restaurant
A Japanese restaurant is one where the traditional meals of Japan are served. Other dishes peculiar to other ethnic groups have been adopted and variants for Japanese ingredients used. The Japanese cuisine is based on its staple meals with others as side dishes. Some Japanese restaurants usually offer their customers meals in the traditional Japanese way.
A bakery is a great business idea that can be very rewarding if properly handled by the entrepreneur. Flour based foods such as cakes, bread, pies, scones, bagels and cookies are staples of bakeries. Some bakeries also serve coffee and tea to their customers especially those that are looking to consume the baked goods on the premises. In this instance, there are table services.
A sports bar is one that usually caters to sports fans and they usually have televisions and other sports memorabilia in it. Drinks and meals are usually served to customers who either sit at tables or at the bar but in such a way that they are able to catch whatever game is being shown.
This is usually an establishment where unusual and foreign prepared meals are being sold. A delicatessen is often a combination of a Grocery Store and restaurant. The meals offered in a deli are usually of a better quality than that of a fast food restaurant; fried food is rarely served and sandwiches are prepared according to order. A delicatessen can vary in size but most are often smaller than the average grocery store. Delicatessens in the United States are often distinct in sticking to an ethnic culture.
This type of restaurant serves only a certain kind of cuisine such as roast pork, sausages and duck pate. The meals are usually fatty and oriented around meat. The atmosphere at a bouchon is usually light with most of the customers being known by the owner. Aside from heavily oriented meat meals, salads and cold appetizers and other forms of soups are served as well.
- Breakfast Restaurant
These kind of restaurants specialize in providing customers breakfast at least 6 days of the week. Any entrepreneur looking to run this business in a brick and mortar building has to think of other services to offer after the time for breakfast has passed. Since the meals served are usually limited, an entrepreneur will not need a huge amount of capital to start and run the business.
- Full Service Restaurant
A full service restaurant is one where menus that are complete and varied are usually served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every meal period has multiple entrees which include soups, salads and desserts. Preparation of meals in this kind of restaurant is usually complex and follows multiple dedicated steps.
- Chinese Restaurant
A Chinese restaurant is an establishment that is outside China that serves traditional Chinese cuisines. Due to the large Chinese community in the United States, there are a huge number of Chinese restaurants there. Most Chinese restaurants have modified their cooking techniques to produce local tastes leading to the development of a cuisine that is called American Chinese.
These are establishments that mostly serve their customers beer and wine, with seafood and choucroute being the popular dishes served there. A brasserie offers the same kind of menu to its customers and it is usually open for 24 hours. The atmosphere is very casual and it caters to a diverse crowd who do not mind being offered the same menu all the time.
These are often establishments that are smaller than a regular sized restaurant and the menus are either verbal or written on a chalkboard. Most of the meals being served are usually regional in nature and most of its staff except for the cook is usually untrained. The meals are usually modest and are quite affordable for its customers. Most of the meals served in a Bistro are usually foods that can be slowly cooked such as bean stew and cassoulet.
Coffee is one of the most popular beverages that is consumed all over the world as more than 400 billion cups are consumed every year. This made a coffee house one of the most lucrative businesses that an entrepreneur can run. A coffeehouse not only serves coffee, but it is a place where friends can meet, lunch can be taken or a quick drink to revitalize one’s day.
For a coffeehouse to be successful, it has to have heavy foot traffic in order to generate high volume sales. Aside from coffee, espresso-based drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos, fruit juices, assorted teas, bottled water with an assortment of baked goods can be served.
- Sushi Bar
Sushi is a Japanese meal that is specially prepared with vinegared rice and then combined with a variety of ingredients which are mostly uncooked seafood, vegetables and tropical fruits occasionally. Even though the styles with which sushi is prepared varies, the key ingredient – sushi rice – remains constant.
Due to the popularity of sushi, there have been a lot of variations into how it can be prepared especially in the western world so as to suit the western palate. The regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding raw fish also makes it impossible for sushi to be made in its original way.
- Specialty Restaurant
A specialty restaurant serves unique meals that are made in small quantities with high quality ingredients. Customers patronizing specialty restaurants often have to pay high prices as the customers are paying for the ingredients as well as the labor. Specialty restaurants are highly regulated in the United States by state and federal agencies. Even at this, the specialty segment is making significant progress due to the amount of revenue it generates from those looking to try out specialty meals.
- Do-It-Yourself Dining
This kind of restaurant is one that embodies its name. Here guests are given the opportunity to cook their own meals with help from the staff while the ingredients and drinks are provided by the restaurant. Even though this kind of restaurant negates the concept of restaurants where guests expect to be cooked for; the experience it offers makes up for the ridiculous concept. Guests that want to cook are provided with a variety of options from drinks, appetizers to main courses and desserts.
- Dark Restaurants
This has more to do with the experience of the customers and less with what is being offered. Dark restaurants are slowly becoming popular and the reason why it has caught on is that even though the servers are visually impaired or even blind, it is found that being without the sense of sight (for guests) allows other senses to be heightened. This makes the flavors of the dish to be more bold and rich while heightening the overall dining experience of the guest.
Before you can make your decision on which specific segment you want to go into, you must have conducted a thorough research. Even though most of the various types of food service operations have similarities, there are also many differences as well. You might also need to take your personality into consideration, if you are one that will want to be known by your customers and are a peoples’ person, then you might need to start a very casual restaurant.
If your intention is to ensure that your customers have the best quality meals in a structured environment, then you might go into the fine dining segment. Once you have made the decision as to what business suits your personality, then you can start to think of the niche that you intend to occupy in the marketplace.