What is Counter Service?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Counter service is a type of hospitality strategy that is used in bars, pubs, and some restaurants. Sometimes referred to as bar service, this approach to serving customers involves providing food and drink at a counter or bar, rather than at a table. Over the years, two specific forms of counter services have evolved, with both approaches used around the world.

Counter service can mean ordering food, waiting for it to be provided, then taking it to a seat to dine.
Counter service can mean ordering food, waiting for it to be provided, then taking it to a seat to dine.

One approach to counter service involves seating a customer at the bar or counter. The customer then places an order, which is prepared and served at the bar. With this model, the customer remains seated at the counter to consume the food and drink.

Ordering and enjoying food at the counter of a bar is one version of counter service.
Ordering and enjoying food at the counter of a bar is one version of counter service.

A second type of counter service applies a slightly different strategy to customer care. The customer still approaches the counter, and places an order, but is likely to remain standing. The order is prepared and placed before the customer, often on a tray. Instead of remaining at the bar, the customer takes the food-laden tray and proceeds to a dining area, where tables and chairs are available.

Both approaches differ from table service, a method where customers are seated, orders taken, and food and drink returned to the table by servers. With table service, diners normally pay for their meal at the end of their visit to the restaurant. In most cases, customers who receive counter service will either pay for the order before or at the time that the order is received. However, in many pubs and bars, patrons may be allowed to run a tab that must be settled at the end of the evening.

Considered a more casual approach to dining out, counter service is the norm in many fast food restaurants, as well as many bars and pubs around the world. The perception is that counter service tends to be faster, making it ideal for anyone who has only a limited amount of time to enjoy a meal or have a drink. While this is true in many counter service restaurants, the opposite is true in bars and pubs, where patrons are likely to order a drink, then settle in to visit with friends and enjoy the drink for some time.

There are establishments that offer a combination of counter and table services. This is true of restaurants that provide a full bar in addition to a dining room. An arrangement of this type is often very convenient for customers who are waiting for all members of the dining party to arrive. While waiting, the individual can enjoy a quick drink at the bar, pleasantly passing the time until everyone is present and it is time to be seated at a table.

Counter service is a casual, informal approach that works well in restaurant and bar settings.
Counter service is a casual, informal approach that works well in restaurant and bar settings.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Crispety-I love Five Guys Burgers and Fries. They have the best burgers and fries I have ever tasted. Their fries are so fresh and taste so good.

I wanted to say that all fast food restaurants offer counter service. Most of the time, you get your food a few minutes after you order. The only time that food is brought to you in a fast food restaurant is when it is not ready, or it is a special order.

For example, if you ask for her something to be removed from your burger, to them this is considered a special order.

It will take a little bit longer to prepare this cheeseburger. I always do that to make sure that the burger is fresh.

When I go to McDonald's,for example, I ask for them to remove the pickles so that when I check my burger I know it's going to be hot.


Sneakers41-Many casual restaurants also offer counter service. The way it usually works is that you go to the register and place your order and then wait nearby for your order to be ready.

For example, at Five Guys Burgers and Fries you place your order at the cash register, and you're given a number.

Once your number is read, you know that your order is ready and it is offered to you in a bag.

Some counter restaurants have you placed the order at the cash register and then someone brings you your order at your table.

At Pei Wei, a restaurant owned by P.F. Chang's, you place your order at the register, and another representative will give you a table number. That table is for your party to dine, and the food that you ordered will be brought out when it is ready.

Unlike traditional table service, these servers are not compensated like a traditional waiter or waitress, as there is no assigned tables for this staff. Everyone at the restaurant works as a team to assist the incoming patrons.


I just want to add that many Cuban restaurants offer counter service at a window.

For example, many of the locals will purchase a cup of Cuban coffee from the counter and hang around it while they drink the coffee. They also use this window for take out orders or for purchases of simple ala carte items.

This restaurant will also have a dining area, but this widow area is reserved for quick service orders.

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