A typical restaurant in uptown Manhattan
A restaurant is an establishment that serves prepared food and beverages to be consumed on the premises. The term covers a multiplicity of venues and a diversity of cuisine styles.
Restaurants are sometimes a feature of a larger complex, typically a hotel, where the dining amenities are provided for the convenience of the residents and, of course, for the hotel to maximise their potential revenue. Such restaurants are often also open to non-residents.
Kinds of restaurants
There exist many possible organizations for restaurants, depending on local customs and the formality and price of the meal:
- one sits down, a waiter comes to take one's order, and later brings the food; one pays after finishing eating
- one collects food from a counter and pays, then sits down and starts eating (self-service restaurant); sub-varieties:
- one collects ready portions
- one serves oneself from containers
- one is served at the counter
- a special procedure is that one first pays at the cash desk, collects a ticket and then goes to the food counter, where one gets the food in exchange for the ticket
- one orders at the counter; after preparation the food is brought to one's table; paying may be on ordering or after eating.
Depending on local customs and the establishment, restaurants may or may not serve alcoholic beverages. Often, laws governing the sale of alcohol prohibit restaurants from selling alcohol without a meal (which would be an activity for a bar, often with more severe restrictions).
Restaurants range from unpretentious lunching or dining places catering to people working nearby, with simple food served in simple settings at low prices, to expensive establishments serving refined food and wines in a formal setting. In the former case, clients are not expected to wear formal attire. In the latter case, clients generally wear formal clothing, though this varies between cultures.
Restaurants often specialize in certain types of food. For example, there are seafood restaurants, vegetarian restaurants or ethnic restaurants. Generally speaking, restaurants selling "local" food are simply called restaurants, while restaurants selling food of foreign origin are called accordingly (Chinese restaurant, French restaurant, etc...).
Restaurant guides list the best places to eat. One of the most famous of these, in Western Europe, is the Michelin series of guides which accord from 1 to 3 stars to restaurants they perceive to be of high culinary merit. Restaurants with stars in the Michelin guide are formal, expensive establishments; in general the more stars awarded, the higher will be the prices. In the United States, the Mobil Travel Guides and the American Automobile Association rate restaurants on a similar 1 to 5 star (Mobil) or Diamond (AAA) scale. Three, four, and five star ratings are roughly to the Michelin one, two, and three star ratings while one and two star ratings typically indicate good casual restaurants. The popular Zagat Survey compiles individuals’ comments about restaurants.
Nearly all major American newspapers employ restaurant critics and publish online dining guides for the cities they serve. Unlike their European counterparts, American newspaper restaurant critics typically visit dining establishments anonymously and return several times so as to sample the entire menu. Newspaper restaurant guides, therefore, tend to provide the most thorough coverage of various cities' dining options.
In economics, restaurants are the end of the supply chain in the foodservice industry. There is usually too much competition in most cities since barriers to entry are relatively low, which means that for most restaurants, it is hard to make a profit. In most First World industrialized countries, restaurants are heavily regulated to ensure the health and safety of the customers.
The typical restaurant owner faces many obstacles to success, including raising initial capital, finding competent and skilled labor, maintaining consistent and excellent food quality, maintaining high standards of safety, and the constant hassle of minimizing potential liability for any food poisoning or accidents that may occur. This is why restaurants seem to come and go all the time.
In France, a brasserie is a café doubling as a restaurant with a relaxed setting, which serves single dishes and other meals. A bistro is a familiar name for a café serving simple meals in an unpretentious settings, at moderate prices, especially in Paris; because of their popularity, bistros have become increasingly tourist spots.
A special restaurant is the dining car in old-style long-distance trains. To passengers travelling long distances it offers more luxury than eating brought-along food in the train, while it saves time compared with eating in towns along the way. Also, compared with other restaurants, the ever changing views of the countryside enhance the pleasure of the dinner. Dining cars have become increasingly rarer, often replaced by bar cars selling some snacks and pre-packaged meals.