Starting a Business

5 Money-Making Mainstays of the Restaurant Industry

5 Money-Making Mainstays of the Restaurant Industry
Image credit: Thomas Barwick

The following excerpt is from The Staff of Entrepreneur Media's book Start Your Own Restaurant and More. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes

Most restaurateurs have a concept in mind when they open their business. It may be based on their ethnicity, what they enjoyed learning about in culinary school or it could simply be their favorite foods. In some cases, the choice of food may stem from a particular region of the country or world. For instance, a restaurant owner who grew up in New Orleans may want nothing more than to bring the flavors of the Big Easy to another part of the country. Whatever the reason, there are several very common restaurant concepts that are mainstays in the industry and very often money makers. Let’s look at them now.

Seafood restaurants

Quick-service seafood restaurants generally offer a limited range of choices, often restricted to fried seafood. These restaurants are typically found near beaches or along boardwalks or piers. Midscale and upscale seafood restaurants offer a wider selection of food, prepared in ways other than fried, such as baked, broiled and grilled. Most seafood restaurants also offer a limited number of additional menu items, such as steak and chicken.

Related: The Essentials to Consider When Designing and Equipping Your Restaurant

Seafood can be a risky area on which to focus, as prices are always changing and many kinds of seafood are seasonal. Also, quality can vary tremendously. When shopping for seafood, make sure that the items are fresh and meet your standards of quality. If you’re not happy with what a distributor offers, you can be sure your customers won’t be either.

The décor of a typical casual seafood restaurant is typically marine-related with fishing nets, buoys and aquariums. Finer seafood restaurants usually have minimal marine-related furnishings. You’ll often find fine dining seafood restaurants located on or near a waterfront, which adds to the nautical ambience, but they can also be found inland in many coastal states. Some of the nation’s best seafood comes from Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Florida, Louisiana, Washington, Hawaii and the San Francisco area of California.


Steakhouses are part of the midscale and upscale restaurant markets. Midscale steakhouses are typically family-oriented and offer a casual environment with meals perceived as good values. In terms of décor, comfort is emphasized and Western themes are popular.

Upscale steakhouses offer a more formal atmosphere and may serve larger cuts of meat that are of better quality than those served in midscale restaurants. Upscale establishments also charge higher prices, and their décor may be similar to that of other fine-dining establishments, offering guests more privacy and focusing more on adult patrons than families.

New York, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Chicago are among the most popular cities for steakhouses, but you can find them all over. In recent years, the most beef has come from Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, California and Oklahoma.

Although red meat is the primary focus of steakhouses, many offer additional items, such as poultry, seafood and pasta selections. Salad bars are popular at midscale steakhouses.

Family-style restaurants

As the name implies, these establishments are geared toward families. Because they charge reasonable prices, they also appeal to seniors. They offer speedy service that falls somewhere between that of quick-service places and full-service restaurants. Their menus offer a variety of selections to appeal to the interests of a broad range of customers, from children to seniors. Family-style restaurant prices are typically priced higher than those of fast-food restaurants, but these establishments provide table service to compensate. Some also offer family-sized portions to divide among your clan.

Related: What You Need to Know Before Starting a Food Service Business

The décor of family-style restaurants is generally comfortable, with muted tones, unremarkable artwork, but often with a theme, and plenty of booths and wide chairs. Booster seats and highchairs for children are readily available.

Casual-dining restaurants

These establishments appeal to a wide audience, ranging from members of Generation Y to Generation X to baby boomers with families to seniors, and they provide a variety of food items, from appetizers and salads to main dishes and desserts. Casual-dining restaurants offer a comfortable atmosphere with midrange prices. Many center on a theme that’s incorporated into their menus and décor.

Ethnic restaurants

Ethnic restaurants enjoy a significant share of the U.S. restaurant market. They range from quick-service places with limited menu selections to upscale eateries with a wide variety of menu items. Their menus typically include Americanized versions of ethnic dishes, as well as more authentic food. Most ethnic restaurants also include a few American cuisine dishes.

The three most popular kinds of ethnic restaurants are Italian, Mexican and Chinese. Other popular ethnic restaurant types include Indian, Thai, Caribbean, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Mediterranean and Vietnamese. An even wider variety of ethnic restaurants can thrive in areas with a culturally diverse population, such as large metropolitan areas.

Edition: October 2016

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