Self Service Restaurant: Definition & Equipment

Instructor: Allison Tanner
A self-service restaurant is unique as a style of eating establishment. This lesson will define a self-service restaurant and discuss the kind of equipment necessary for it to operate.

Self-Service Restaurant

Kate is launching a self-service restaurant in a beautiful area of the French Alps. Many of Kate's friends have been confused by her decision to open a self-service establishment, so she decides to have them for dinner so that she can tell them all about it.

Kate starts by telling her friends that she is excited to offer great food with the ease of a restaurant where her customers will select the items they want, plate it, and pay before eating. She tells them that this hallmark of the self-service restaurant makes it a great option for providing a wide variety of foods, with various prices that meet the needs of a large variety of customers. She explains that this is a great way to meet diverse needs because a self-service restaurant is a food establishment where guests serve themselves the food that they want, which gives her the ability to create a flexible menu.

In general, a self-service restaurant will have many options, including:

Cold Items

  • Salads
  • Sandwiches
  • Fruits
  • Yogurts
  • Cold Sides (potato salad, pasta salad, etc.)
  • Drink Variety

Hot Items

  • Meat Entrées
  • Veggie Entrées
  • Side Dishes (potatoes, veggies, etc.)

Going on, Kate says that all locations vary, but the key characteristics of a self-service restaurant include:

  • Serving your own food
  • Getting your own drink
  • Paying before you sit and eat

However, Kate says that in some self-service restaurants, they will offer meals or meats which are plated by staff. This might be a particular set of meals or just a meat board where the staff makes meat, such as steak, for the guests. Regardless, the guests are still choosing the items, taking the plate, and paying before they eat.


Kate's friend, Pete, pipes up and asks, 'So, what will it take for you to get this up and running? What kind of stuff do you need to make the place function?'

Kate explains that the kind of equipment needed for a self-service restaurant depends on what meals the location intends to serve and local regulations on storing food. However, there are some things that just about all places need.

Kate goes on to say that, of course, she will need some basic things like:

  • Serving utensils
  • Plates
  • Silverware
  • Somewhere to store the silverware
  • Napkin dispenser
  • Condiment dispenser
  • Tables and chairs
  • Point-of-Sale Systems, used to ring up the food for payment

…but in order for the restaurant to function, self-service locations also need some specific things, such as:

  • Coolers: for displaying cold food items that can come in many sizes and shapes. Whether she wants to sell salad, cheese, cold bottled drinks, or other pre-packaged items, this is an essential part of the business.
  • Heated buffet lines: These can use water for steaming the food or be built with an electrical system keep the food hot. In this area, the heated self-serve food items will be placed.
  • Hot boxes: Which will store the back-up food for the hot buffet. These are the pre-made dishes that can replace food as it runs out.
  • Salad/Cold food bar: This is where the salad and other cold items can be placed for display. This might include plated cold food that can sit on the ice or cooled area, or it may be pudding and other like items.
  • Gastronorm Pans: Gastronorm refers to how the pans are sized, but these are steel, poly-carbonate, or other style pans used to put the food in and place it on the buffet.
  • Drink dispensers: In most all self-service restaurants, the guest pour their own drinks, with the exception being alcoholic beverages, which are almost never self-service. These dispensers are the same style as you would see in fast-food places or gas stations.
  • Serving Utensils: Kate needs all shapes and sizes, from tongs to salad dressing servers.
  • Scales: Most self-service locations sell salad and other items by weight. This means Kate will need scales to weigh the food the customer selects.

Kate goes on to say that, although there are also a number of other equipment items needed to make sure the kitchen runs, these are the main things she had to get so that the guests can easily serve themselves.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account