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Casual Dining vs. Fine Dining

Casual Dining vs. Fine Dining

Last updated on 6/30/2017

There's something special about eating at a fine restaurant. The dapper waiting staff, fancy cutlery, aroma of expensive wine, and delicious meals give customers a sense of importance. Of course, experiencing the wonderful feelings and savory cuisine that accompany fine dining requires shedding some cash, perhaps more than most people are willing. At Restaurant Le Meurice in Paris, an average supper will cost a single person over $500. Can a meal actually be worth that much? There are plenty of customers who are willing to pay top dollar for the optimal experience. However, many others prefer eating in a casual restaurant setting; the food is often well-made yet far less costly. If you're thinking about starting a restaurant, selecting the right path is crucial. We're here to compare the history, modern success, and major challenges of both casual and fine dining to help you determine the identity of your future restaurant!

Restaurant History

From day one, the industry has been constantly changing to best fit its customers; thus successful restaurant owners are exceptionally attune to their customers' needs. Understanding how the industry, demands, and trends have transformed throughout the years is essential to starting a successful restaurant, be it casual or refined.

  • C. 300 B.C.E. - 500 A.D. Food vendors and public eateries sell food on the streets of Ancient Greek, Roman, and Chinese cities.
  • C. 1000-1500 A.D. Overnight inns provide food and drink to travelers and locals alike. These were mostly operated out of the owner's home.
  • C. 1550 Coffee houses (cafes) are established in Constantinople.
  • 1782 First restaurant is established in Paris.
  • 1790-1820 Beginning of the modern restaurant in post-revolution France. After the war, members of the elite class sought new ways to earn money. Many took advantage of their aristocratic background by opening the first fine dining restaurants, where they offered the nobility's dining experience for an affordable cost. The budding middle class now had money to spend, and eagerly took part in the elements of aristocratic life. Fine dining in Paris flourished, and quickly spread across the Atlantic.
  • 1900-1960 Ideas like Henry Ford's assembly line gain popularity and entrepreneurs realize the benefit of producing a high quantity of food at a low price. This led to franchising and the first restaurant chains, like McDonalds, White Castle, and KFC.
  • 1950-1970 Casual restaurants with themes, like Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, emerge after business owners realize that customers could be better catered to through specialization.
  • 1970-1990 The expanding American work force and the prevalence of two working parent households leads to the beginning of the casual family restaurant, examples of which include Applebee's, T.G. I. Friday's, and Olive Garden.
  • 2005-Present Fast casual restaurants like Qdoba, Panera Bread, and Five Guys gain popularity.


Fine Dining

Since 1950, the number of casual dining restaurants has exploded. In fact, fine dining restaurants only account for about 10% of total U.S. restaurant sales. However, this does not mean that deciding to open a fine dining establishment instead of a casual one is a bad idea; it merely presents a different set of challenges. A wealthy clientele often gives fine dining restaurants a higher ceiling for success. Consider the following tips for fine dining start-ups:

  • Select a level of how fancy/pricey your restaurant will be. If the two don't match, customers might be turned off.
  • Pick a location and make your presence known. The ideal location is near middle-upper class residential areas, yet far off from potential fine dining competitors.
  • Stock up on necessary equipment. Every part of your restaurant should match in elegance. Purchase necessary exquisite dinnerware and flatware, as well as ornate cloth table covers and chairs, fancy glassware and china dinnerware can also spice up your restaurant!
  • Purchase first-rate restaurant equipment. At high-end restaurants, customers expect only the best-quality food.
  • Establish a good reputation. Remember, customers choose to eat at fine dining establishments not only because of the higher quality of food, but also because of the elevated ambiance these establishments offer.

Casual Dining

Casual restaurants, from which 90% of the American restaurant industry's profits come, appear in myriad forms. From food trucks and fast food joints to family style establishments, casual restaurants dot the American landscape. With so many competitors, how can a new entrepreneur hope to succeed? The answer lies in mimicking the most successful members of the industry over the past few years. Fast casual establishments like Chipotle Mexican Grill, Noodles & Company, and Panera Bread have been astoundingly successful. What distinguishes this type of restaurant? How can you successfully start a fast casual establishment? Here are some tips to follow:

  • Offer and advertise high-quality food made quickly for a great price. Consider ways to include made-to-order items on your menu. Patrons will be more likely to pay a higher price when customization is an option.
  • Specialize in a certain food category to ensure a higher-quality product than a standard fast-food joint.
  • Offer many healthy options; customers will pay more for healthier food.
  • Purchase appropriate counter surfaces, display cases, food heat lamps, refrigerators, freezers, and other food storage items.
  • Maintain a well-run, clean facility. You want your restaurant to distinguish itself from fast-food joints, so maintaining a clean facility is imperative to your success.

What about More Casual Options?

If managed correctly, starting a fast-casual restaurant gives you a fantastic opportunity to succeed! However, since some customers will always want quick, cheap food, fast-food joints and family restaurants are far from obsolete. Starting successful eateries in either of these two categories requires applying the same principles as starting a successful fast-casual restaurant would. Your casual establishment should offer:

  • Menu variety, though specialization to a small extent is good.
  • Healthy options
  • A clean facility
  • Quick service

Making the Big Decision

If you commit yourself to the dream of opening a restaurant, your determination can lift you to prosperity. Both casual and fine dining have rich and interesting histories defined by ambitious entrepreneurs with revolutionary ideas for their time. With the right mindset, anything is possible! Keep in mind that in opening any restaurant, obtaining the correct licenses, permits, and certifications is necessary, and these vary by state. Ultimately, the success of your restaurant, no matter the type, hinges on knowing and satisfying your customers' wants and needs.

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