The thought of “what is the difference between a cafe and a restaurant” may have crossed your mind while you were in the shower or kept you up late at night.
You could argue that cafés are the only places serving coffee, but you’d be wrong. Doesn’t the fact that they offer refreshments imply that they are interchangeable? A restaurant can be loosely defined as any business providing food and drinks to its customers. Cafes, meanwhile, are establishments that sell beverages other than coffee.
In that case, it would follow that all restaurants are cafes, but cafés are not all restaurants.
There’s no need to have an existential crisis over nothing; we’ve covered you. Let’s take a step back and determine what distinguishes a cafe from a restaurant.
What Came First, the Cafe or the Restaurant?
Like every fictional hero, coffee shops and eateries have their backstory.
Although individuals in many different cultures have been selling meals for a very long time, the name “restaurant” was not used until the 18th century in France. A French cook, A. Boulanger, built a shop in Paris where customers could buy soup and other “restaurant” fare.
Nearly two decades later, Antoine Beauvilliers opened La Grande Taverne de Londres, which is credited as the first restaurant in history to offer high-quality interior design, cuisine, and wait staff.
While not the very first restaurants, they gave rise to a universal term for the many diverse eating places that grew up around the world. Fast food, fine dining, and other subgenres have emerged as ways for diners to differentiate between establishments serving similar meals.
The origins of cafes, meanwhile, can be traced further east, to the Arabian peninsula and Mecca. By the time coffee became famous in the Ottoman Empire, the region already had numerous coffeehouses where intellectuals could gather to discuss ideas and play games while sipping a hot beverage. The description doesn’t make the setting sound too different from your local cafe.
In addition to waking people up, coffee has long been known to stimulate their imaginations. Unsurprisingly, cafes were a gathering spot for creative types in England. Many of the Enlightenment’s most prominent thinkers, including Voltaire, Rousseau, and Denis Diderot, frequented the Café Procope in Paris.
From there, themed or novelty cafe concepts became global.
Cafe vs. Restaurant: Menu
You might give up trying to name every Starbucks beverage before you even get to the Frappucinos if someone asks you to. Not that I blame you; coffee shops like Starbucks offer dozens of drink options, each of which may be prepared in at least two ways.
Putting the past aside, there is a notable difference between the menus at a café and a restaurant. Restaurants have a more comprehensive selection of food and drink options, whereas cafes tend to stick to lighter fare.
If you’re craving something sweet and need a sugar fix, you might detour to the next bakery cafe in search of some cupcakes. You can buy desserts in regular restaurants, but they won’t look nearly as delicious as in cafés.
Similarly, cafes aren’t the best option if you’re in a hurry and need a hearty lunch to get you through the workday. If you’re hungry, it’s usually best to get takeaway from the closest restaurant that serves what you want to eat. But some coffee shops also sell food, such as sandwiches or pasta dishes, to accompany your drink.
On the other hand, you can count on finding at least one type of brewed coffee at most establishments. Compared to coffee shops, most dining establishments opt to serve just minimal amounts of caffeine so that the focus remains on the food.
A local restaurant probably won’t have what you’d call a “Venti latte with 10 pumps of vanilla and extra whip,” and vice versa for a café serving the same type of food.
Cafe vs. Restaurant: Ambience
If hunger and dietary restrictions aren’t deciding factors, the ambiance of a cafe or restaurant could be.
Historically, cafes have been known for their calm, cozy atmosphere. Students, workaholics, and introverts often frequent cafes because of their comfortable atmospheres, reliable WiFi, and availability of charging outlets.
There would also be that group of (not-so) coworkers talking amongst themselves about anything related to work. The strong aroma of the coffee, combined with the soothing sounds of the guitar in the background, creates a cohesive atmosphere.
Restaurants, on the other hand, have an atmosphere that promotes conversation among larger groups. To “relax out,” you wouldn’t visit a restaurant buffet. No fast-food restaurant would welcome a customer with a book in tow. Banquet halls and restaurants are popular venues for weddings, anniversaries, and farewell parties. Who doesn’t want to remember a meal with loved ones?
Defined, cafés offer a more individualistic dining experience, whereas other eateries are better suited to larger groups. A trip to a cafe could provide the much-needed time for reflection that you’ve been craving. In contrast, a larger setting would offer more excitement and drama to catching up with long-lost pals. New foods are a terrific conversation starter for a first date. There would be fewer opportunities for silence than when simply hanging out in a cafe.
The Final Verdict
Cafes may technically be considered a subset of restaurants, although they exist in all their own categories. There may be parallels between a quick food restaurant and a buffet, but cafes are very different. While there is some overlap between the two, especially given current trends, they nonetheless occupy distinct markets. Although cafes are popular among creative types, steakhouses and pubs are where most social butterflies would rather dine.
As much as we like the food we eat, the memories and connections we make when dining out are just as important to our well-being. When you can’t decide between the two, you should focus on discovering what you truly require.