What are The Most Popular Types of Restaurants in the US? | Beambox
As of Spring 2018, Statista estimates that over 600,000 restaurants were operating in the United States. Despite challenges caused by the pandemic, starting in 2020, the restaurant industry has continued to see steady growth.
Yes, the sector is anything but flagging. The restaurant industry always bounces back from recession and hard times. But if you work in the industry, you’ll be acutely aware of how competitive it is and how the times are changing. Besides knowing what restaurant hashtags to use on your social media, you need to serve a menu the customers crave. This stems across all cuisines and restaurant categories, from quick-service restaurants to traditional sit-down dining.
It would be interesting to look at the most popular types of restaurants in the US. If you’re already operating in the industry, this may provide a perspective on your competition level.
Alternatively, if you’re interested in opening a restaurant in the future, it might give you an idea of the type of establishment best suited for your region. And the most likely to draw in the biggest audience over time.
The Most Popular Restaurant Cuisine by State
This brilliant piece of research by Thrillist provides a fascinating insight into the most popular types of restaurant cuisine in the US by state. This reliable data gathers information from American citizens who opted to share their Google location history.
Most Popular Eateries by State
The research included eight types of restaurant cuisine: barbecue, burgers, Chinese food, Mexican food, pizza and Italian food, sandwich shops, seafood, and steakhouses.
Pizza dominates the Midwest, big time, while sandwiches reign in the Mid-Atlantic. Head further south and westward, Mexican food makes an unsurprising appearance as the number one of all popular eateries.
Perhaps more interesting are the cities that appear to be the ‘capitals’ of specific cuisine:
Burger joints: Washington DC
Sandwich shops: Orlando
Seafood: New Orleans
Mexican food: San Antonio
Chinese food: New York
The sheer variety of cuisine in the US demonstrates that the data only offers a glimpse into the kinds of food restaurants available to diners.
The following map from The Huffington Post shows the most disproportionately popular cuisines in each state. While there are some apparent entries, others will surprise:
Most Popular Cusine in Each State or Region
Gluten-free, gastropubs, Filipino, and Peruvian all feature strongly in certain areas, but that only tells part of the story.
Although the data is a little long in the tooth now, the following figures by Statista demonstrate the considerable role played by ethnic cuisine in the United States:
61% of Americans eat Italian food most often
50% of Americans eat Mexican food most often
36% of Americans eat Chinese food most often
These monthly figures, too, prove that ethnic cuisine remains a dominant force in the American restaurant industry. For many, they are the most popular types of restaurants in the United States.
12 Different Types of Restaurants Found in the USA
Now that you know the most popular types of cuisine, let’s go over the top 12 different types of restaurants in the United States. Are you considering a career change to become a business owner? Besides learning the hospitality terms you really should know, consider these popular restaurants to choose from to gain a headstart.
QSR, aka Fast Food Restaurants
- QSR, aka Fast Food Restaurants: One of the Most Popular Types of Restaurants in America
Quick-service restaurants are more commonly known as fast-food restaurants in the US. Customers tend to eat their meals on the go, but most establishments also offer seating. Drive-through window ordering and delivery provide busy car commuters in America with an easy meal option.
Fast food restaurants draw customers due to their lower-priced food, fast service, and convenience. However, the trade-offs are mass-produced food made with lower-priced ingredients and meals usually frozen and pre-prepared or precooked for speedier food delivery. Customers also frequent fast-food restaurants during family road trips. Due to their prevalence over time as one of the three most popular restaurant types in the US, many view these common restaurants with nostalgia as a type of comfort food.
Many fast-food restaurants are franchised businesses or fast-food chains and are either regional, national, or even global destinations. Popular fast food restaurants include Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell. The average profit margin for fast food restaurants runs between 6-9%. This is higher than a full-service restaurant due to needing less staff, less expensive ingredients, and a higher employee turnover rate.
Casual Dining Restaurants
- Casual Dining Restaurants: Celebratory Dining Concept
Casual dining restaurants provide table service with a sit-down meal. They range from more extensive franchises to local family-owned restaurants. You’ll find nearly all types of cuisine here, and the restaurant themes and decor vary significantly. A casual dining restaurant could serve all-day breakfast staples or an Indian food buffet.
Moderately priced food is served — higher than in fast food restaurants. They can make more money per meal sold. A casual dining establishment drives higher profits because customers spend more on drinks and desserts. Customers typically frequent casual dining places for special occasions and gatherings with family and friends.
The name “casual” dining exemplifies their laid-back atmosphere. Buffet-style restaurants fall under this popular type of restaurant. What attracts customers to a casual dining establishment are signature dishes and specials you can’t get anywhere else.
- Fast-Casual Dining: Rapidly Growing to Be the Most Popular Type of Restaurant in the US
Fast-casual dining is for customers interested in QSRs but with higher-quality ingredients. They typically offer food for less than the price at casual restaurants but are seen as healthier than fast food.
Patrons usually place their orders at the counter and then bring their meals to their chosen table. This type of restaurant is quickly growing in popularity due to offering quality food, quick counter service, and a casual atmosphere. Food items can range from spicy food at ethnic restaurants to paninis with farm-to-fork salads. Chipotle and Panera are examples of fast-growing fast-casual food chains.
Find many fast-casual restaurants in urban and metropolitan areas. They are busy during lunch hour as they cater to people working in business districts. They are bringing healthier options and delicious meals to quick lunch breaks.
As a business owner, learning how to get your establishment to show up on Google Maps is essential for brand awareness. These establishments capitalize on moderate price points with lower labor costs due to meal prep and reliance on the lunch rush.
Contemporary Casual Restaurants
- Contemporary Casual Restaurants: The Most Up-and-Coming Restaurant Type
Contemporary casual restaurants offer sit-down dining focused on the atmosphere and overall experience. This is a relatively new type of restaurant that Gen-Z and Millennial patrons brought into popularity. These establishments typically offer a relaxed atmosphere and focus on culinary trends, and sometimes outdoor seating.
Contemporary casual restaurants also know how to take advantage of social media post ideas by offering photogenic meals, drinks, and ambiance. They know how to get Yelp reviews and understand how crucial word-of-mouth marketing is for brand recognition.
Customers frequent a contemporary casual restaurant for brunch on weekends or for signature dishes and craft beverages. They understand how essential reputation management is for lasting success. You will often find diet-inclusive options, fusion cuisine, or farm-to-table food. Sustainability is often top of mind for these businesses, and they never shy away from marketing to their niche.
Fine Dining Establishments
- Fine Dining Establishments: The Pinnacle of Elegance
Fine dining restaurants provide an exclusive dining experience wrapped in luxury. Known for formality, upscale atmosphere, and high prices, fine dining restaurants offer full table service at a brick-and-mortar location.
Honored chefs may open this type of restaurant to share fine cuisine with a sophisticated dining experience. The great restaurant service itself stands out at these establishments as it’s own event. Customers could experience Michelin-star meals, a fancy array of utensils on the table, and an extra sommelier or wine steward. Expect table manners and etiquette rules to be enforced, as there is often a dress code for these sit-down restaurants.
Customers visit fine dining restaurants for a high-class feel on special occasions with the finest foods, wines, and liquours. Understanding restaurant marketing is crucial to conserve their fine dining status. While this type of restaurant struggled in 2020, more visitors are returning to full sit-down dining experiences.
- Pop-up Restaurants: The Trendiest American Restaurant Concept
How will you know if your high-level concept for a fine dining restaurant will be successful? More and more entrepreneurs in the restaurant industry are testing their ideas with pop-up restaurants.
There are many reasons why a temporary food service opens for a short time. Entrepreneurs can test a new restaurant theme or concept before going all in and opening a brand-new destination. Chefs show off their skills for charity events for a limited time at these temporary establishments. Before moving into a permanent location, pop-up restaurants also develop a menu to test with customers.
Due to the limited time available and FOMO aspect of pop-ups, foods are typically unique, and the experience builds excitement with customers. Business owners also have the opportunity to test out this type of investment before making any substantial long-term commitments. Pop-up restaurant types also have fewer regular restaurant expenses, leading to rental equipment instead of purchasing, and short-term rental location agreements.
- Ghost Restaurants: The Most Popular Type of Restaurant from 2020
A ghost restaurant is also known as a ghost kitchen or virtual restaurant. This concept originally applied to restaurants that operated without a storefront — or even outdoor signage. They are just kitchens with all sales performed digitally and delivered to customers without any interaction with the customer on location. Picture pizzerias and takeout delivery kitchens in bustling cities.
When pandemic lockdowns began in 2020, many restaurants had to close their doors to sit-down service. This required big changes to their business models, where they had to begin functioning as ghost restaurants to deliver food.
While many types of restaurants are opening their doors to receive customers for sit-down service again, ghost kitchens are still thriving with the market for food delivery services increasing. Business owners understand how to capture the work-from-home audience by catering to phone and online orders.
A virtual restaurant has lower operational costs due to having a lower-cost location with a smaller footprint and minimal staff compared to sit-down dining. Most of their expenses are their website, ordering service, third-party delivery partnerships, and social media marketing.
- Food Trucks: The Most Popular Type of Restaurant to Stay Mobile
Food trucks and food carts are often at private events, large outdoor events, or in cities for the lunch rush crowd. Food trucks serve made-to-order moderately-priced food. They use a portable kitchen inside of the truck or a trailer.
Food trucks and carts typically have limited menus focused on a particular cuisine, fusion food, or sometimes one specialty food item. Think street tacos, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, barbecue, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, or even ice cream.
Advertising a food truck is crucial for business. Customers follow their favorite food trucks on social media to track them down. Staying mobile is part of the fun while also drawing attention to new areas to attract more customers. The chosen locations are typically convenient for customers to walk up and order.
Business owners succeed with food trucks due to less overhead and fewer staff members than traditional types of restaurants. They can also use a food truck as an alternative to a pop-up restaurant to test types of menus and concepts.
- Family Style: The American Restaurant Type for Larger Groups
Family-style restaurants are an offshoot of casual dining establishments. The only difference here is that large family-style menu items are served in large portions for groups of people. Many ethnic foods are found at family-style restaurants. Entrees and side dishes are brought out in larger bowls and trays so the table may serve themselves the desired portions.
A family-style restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere to bring families, friends, and groups together. The experience of sharing a meal at the table mimics an at-home experience to draw on nostalgia. Pricing is moderate due to larger portions being shared. Some locations may partner with delivery services for a delivery fee, such as Grubhub or the DoorDash app. Business owners of family-style dining can expect similar profits to casual dining restaurants.
Cafés and Coffee Houses
- Cafés and Coffee Houses Boost Profits
Cafés and coffee houses focus on crafting coffee and tea beverages with minimal food options. Customers anticipate seating for spending time with friends or to work on their computers while staying fueled with caffeine.
Coffee shops often provide a relaxed atmosphere, with counter service and low to moderate-priced items on the menu. They rely on social media ideas and marketing to promote seasonal specialty beverages. Business owners have leveled up their Instagram game by being pros at using hashtags for coffee shops.
Coffee houses lead to higher profits than traditional restaurants due to primarily relying on beverage sales with less staff and food prep than sit-down dining. Business owners can take advantage of offering specialty coffee and drinks by marking up beverages for higher profits.
Pubs and Bars
- Pubs and Bars: Most Profitable Type
A bar or pub serves alcoholic beverages and often limited food menu items. Customers find finger foods, burgers, or fried foods to pair with craft beers. Pubs are typically known for beers on tap, but they have begun to serve more options, including liquor and non-alcoholic beverages, just like bars.
Both pubs are bars have a relaxed atmosphere. Some bars have dance floors, and pubs usually have darts, pool, or other games to stay social with friends. Many have a TV or more with various sports playing to draw in customers wanting to watch major matches.
Business owners must pay attention to liquor costs and bar marketing strategies to stay competitive. A bar or pub’s average gross profit margin is between 70 and 80% due to the flexibility of pricing alcohol. Owners retain bartenders by providing wages plus tips.
Some fine dining and casual dining locations have their own bars for customers to experience while they wait for tables. However, the figures we provided are for standalone bars and pubs.
- Traditional Diners: The Ultimate American Restaurant
You might be surprised to see diners taking their own spot on the list of the most popular types of restaurants in America. You might be wondering, “What’s the difference between a cafe and a diner?” Cafes put most of their focus on crafting beverages for patrons, whereas, American diners have simple drink options.
American diners have a nostalgic feel to them. Think jukeboxes, featured milkshakes, and late-night hours to accommodate workers and travelers.
Diners typically serve American restaurant classics such as full breakfasts, burgers and fries, or famous sandwiches with tomato soup or a pickle on the side. However, their cuisine can vary across the country. One thing is for certain, their breakfast and lunch options will be time-honored and hearty.
Which Popular Types of Restaurants Make the Most Money?
Restaurants and bars typically have relatively low profit margins. But there’s still plenty of money to be made if you get it right.
Time to go over the five most profitable and most popular types of restaurants in the USA. If you want to run a restaurant capable of delivering decent margins, this list may help with your business planning.
Bars: Unsurprisingly — alcohol is typically the highest markup within any restaurant’s financials.
Diners: This is thanks partly to breakfast foods becoming more affordable. Early morning dining is becoming a more popular custom for workers.
Food trucks: Low costs, limited staff, and the ability to sell at high-traffic events contribute to handsome profit margins.
Delivery-only, aka Ghost Restaurants: Think ‘virtual’ restaurants with no dine-in option, although you might benefit from the delivery revolution yourself.
Farm-to-table: Increasingly conscious diners are driving a surge toward restaurants that offer sustainably-sourced food. While this isn’t a typical type of restaurant on its own, it’s an up-and-coming restaurant theme seen in contemporary casual dining, fine dining, and more.
Now you can take these facts into consideration when choosing your next restaurant venture. Follow best practices to make your restaurant easier to find online and build a social media presence. It is essential to get the word out about your new venue. Follow these steps to get your small business on Google Maps to improve your listing and search discoverability.
What’s the Future for the Most Popular Types of Restaurants in the US
The rise of fast-casual, delivery, and veganism is reshaping an already complex market. Ghost restaurants are picking up speed as one of the most convenient kinds of restaurants. With food prices fluctuating, the types of food found in restaurants are sure to change. The next couple of years will be crucial for dining trends in the US.
In the meantime, where will you place your cards if you’re about to enter the restaurant industry? Now that you know the different types of restaurants and the most popular ones across the country, you can narrow down your choices.
To figure out what kind of restaurant you should open, look into restaurant market segments to identify your target customer base. Start with a smart business plan to ensure your business stands out from nearby restaurants.
One way to continuously draw in new customers and retain loyal visitors is through utilizing a wifi marketing strategy. The most popular types of restaurants provide free guest WiFi to optimize their guest experience. Grow your business with a wifi marketing solution like Beambox.
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