What is a Limited Service Restaurant?

Instructor: Allison Tanner
This lesson defines and provides examples of limited service restaurants. Additionally, this lesson describes the key characteristics that defines these establishments.

Limited Service

Emma has been studying for her exam on types and styles of restaurants. Confused with the differences between full-service and limited-service establishments, she is just about to give up when Professor Lane sits at her table in the library.

Professor Lane defines limited-service restaurant for Emma, emphasizing that and tells her it is the kind of restaurant that provides partial service. At these locations, guests are expected to take full initiative to place an order and they give an order to the a cashier or through an online platform. It is a place where the customers select from a menu, pay before receiving the food, and have the option of eating in the establishment or taking the food to go. This is considered limited-service because not everything is done at a table after being seated. In general, customers go to a limited-service location to get prepared-to-order food items, quickly.


Emma is still a bit lost on the details and asks for more help. Professor Lane offers to provide her with some tips and tricks for recognizing a limited service establishment.

He starts by explaining to Emma that there are some key characteristics that can help her identify these types of companies. He tells her that he likes to think of it as OPT. Order, Pay, and Take.

The professor continues:

  • O: Order through a cashier, or more recently, through an online platform.
  • P: Pay before you eat.
  • T: Take it to a table, take it to-go, or have it delivered.

While the restaurant is providing you the service of making your food when you order it, you have to take the initiative to give the order. You must seat yourself and you usually have to fill your own drinks. These are the most common characteristics of a limited service restaurant.

Types of Limited Service

Moving on, Professor Lane tells Emma that there are two primary types of limited service restaurants.

  1. Fast-food
  2. Fast-Casual

He explains that the most prominent type or at least the most well-known type of limited service establishments are fast-food restaurants. These are places that have relatively small menus with a variety of items often made with the same base product. Such as beef burgers, chicken sandwiches, or salads made with the same chicken used for the sandwiches. This allows the company to mass produce the products and get the food out very fast--often, in under a few minutes. These locations usually have a variety of cheap tables, they do not usually serve alcohol, and they give customers plastic utensils for eating. The goal is to get in and out quickly!

More recently, there is a trend towards fast-casual establishments. These locations still operate under the same fundamentals of a limited-service restaurant, but they are usually viewed as having healthier food. They may also bring your food to you instead of having to pick it up yourself and the establishment itself tend to have higher-end feel with fancier tables, metal eating utensils, and they may offer some alcoholic beverages. In general, the main difference between fast-food and fast-casual is a higher quality food and nicer interior design.

'Other' Limited Service Restaurants

Professor Lane goes on to explain that although fast-food and fast-casual are the most defined pictures of limited service, there are other food and drinking establishments that fall into this category:

  • Pizza locations
  • Cafes
  • Doughnut shops

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