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By Dana Krook
From limited service restaurants to full service and everything in between, the options for venturing into restaurateurship are seemingly endless. It’s simply a matter of finding the best fit for your business goals.
On one end of the spectrum are limited service restaurants. These venues are able to offer diners tasty meals at unbeatable speeds and prices in exchange for self service.
On the other end of the spectrum are full service restaurants, which, as their name implies, wait on guests from the moment they enter the venue to the moment they leave.
While both models have their pros and cons, limited service restaurants have proven to be more nimble and resilient in the face of COVID-19. During one week of July 2020, limited service restaurants saw only a 9% decline in sales relative to where they were during that week the previous year, while FSRs experienced a 30% decrease in sales during that time compared to the previous year.
If you’re considering opening your own limited service restaurant, or pivoting your current business towards a more casual restaurant concept, this guide will provide you with everything you need to know.
Without further ado…
A limited service restaurant, or “LSR” for short, is a restaurant in which service is kept to a minimum, and a customer’s interactions with staff ends when the customer receives their food. The typical guest experience involves the guest ordering, paying for, and picking up their meal from a checkout counter.
Unlike at a full service restaurant (FSR), LSRs don’t offer table service while guests dine. Customers usually have to help themselves to cutlery, refill their own beverages, bus their own tables, and pack up their leftovers.
Most types of quick service restaurants (QSRs) fall under the umbrella of limited service, including fast casual and fast food restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, cafes, and some pizzerias. Think Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Starbucks.
While the lines between limited and full service restaurants have been blurred because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several traditional differences between limited service vs full service restaurants.
At full service restaurants, diners can make reservations or walk in unannounced, and then a host seats guests immediately if there is no wait. In contrast, limited service restaurants don’t accept reservations and guests seat themselves after they order.
Servers and bussers help guests throughout the entire FSR dining experience: placing orders, checking guest satisfaction, delivering food, refilling drinks, handling payments, and clearing tables. At an LSR restaurant, guests serve themselves. They place orders at a front counter and typically bring their food to their tables, refill their own drinks, and clear their tables.
It may be helpful to think of limited service venues more as “self service” restaurants, since they rely on the guests helping themselves throughout the meal. Whereas full service restaurants take care of guests throughout every part of the dining experience.
To give you a better sense of what a limited service restaurant looks like, we’ve broken down the common characteristics of the model:
Restaurants that exhibit most of these qualities qualify as limited service.
So what does the customer experience look like at a limited-service restaurant? Here’s an overview:
LSRs rely on customers to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to service.
Technology plays an important role in helping limited services restaurants run smoothly. Though some venues are more tech-savvy than others, this is the hardware and software typically found in an LSR restaurant:
These technology solutions make running an LSR restaurant easier and help to ensure a great guest experience.
Operating a limited services restaurant comes with many benefits that make it an appealing business model, including:
With low operating costs, relatively high profit margins, and a pandemic-friendly service model, running a limited service restaurant is an appealing option for many restaurateurs.
Of course, every restaurant model has its drawbacks. Opening and managing a limited service restaurant comes with a unique set of challenges that full service restaurant operators don’t experience, including:
Unlike FSRs, limited service restaurant operators have to handle limited alcohol sales, smaller check sizes, and fewer opportunities to make a lasting impression, which can make it tough to beat out the competition.
Despite these challenges, running an LSR can be personally rewarding and more profitable than running a full service restaurant. With fewer customer interactions, limited service venue operators can save money on front-of-house staff and focus resources on perfecting the quality of their meals. And with the aid of the right technology, running a limited service restaurant can be a relatively seamless operation.
Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.
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