Counter Service vs. Table Service: What Makes Sense For Your Concept?
The counter versus table service debate is a conversation more restaurant and cafe owners are having with the success of fast-casual restaurants. With the growing desire for good food served quickly, counter service is growing in popularity. Some business owners prefer counter service because it increases the number of customers they can serve—customers wait on their food at the counter rather than a table and leave (or sit at the bar). Other owners who are more customer-service focused, lean towards table service—their servers aren’t rushed and can focus on providing a quality dining experience.
Counter service is good for businesses that don’t have an elaborate menu. Keeping it short and simple (sandwiches vs ribs, mashed potatoes and gravy, and beans) makes it easy for the customer to decide what to order, which is a plus since counter service tends to result in long waiting lines, especially with popular businesses. With table service, customers have more time to decide. In addition, if there are “messy” food items on the list, customers are less likely to overlook them as they might with counter service.
Another important factor to consider is profitability—how will establishing counter service versus table service impact your business sales? Typically, servers have more time to upsell when customers are seated at tables. If your profitability model strongly depends on getting customers to purchase additional items beyond their initial selections, the table service concept may work better for your business.
On the other hand, with counter service, you can earn more sales and incur potentially fewer costs. Businesses that offer table service tend to pay their employees (especially cashiers) more money. They’re not only tasked with serving customers but also providing great customer service. This requires more experienced waitstaff. In addition, depending on the menu items, the cooks may also be a higher level (and expensive).
Compared to table service, counter service usually requires you to have more employees on call. The order-taking process happens much quicker, which usually results in more customers. An increase in customers create more work for the cooks and cashiers, so if you choose this concept, it’s important that you have the capacity to handle the influx of work.
The design of your building can also give key insight into what works best—counter service versus table service. Obviously, operating in a building with numerous tables could confuse customers who may wonder whether to seat themselves or wait at the counter. If your building does have tables and you want to try the counter service concept, consider reworking the setup a bit so it has a more relaxed, yet get-up and go feel. You might even want to add a few small tables outside for customers who want quick service with the option to seat themselves.
The decision you should make regarding counter and table service largely depends on the way your business is structured. Counter service lends itself more for restaurants or cafes that want to provide quick service. Customer service is a priority but primarily within the bounds of what’s realistic for counter service operations. Table service makes sense when you’re invested in giving your customers a genuine experience. Of course, your dining area must be accessibly set up to seat and serve a certain number of people (enough to ensure your profitability).