What is the Difference Between a Cafe and a Restaurant?


The terms cafe and restaurant are rapidly becoming synonymous with each other and it is hard to differentiate from the two. A cafe seems a more modern term for a dining establishment, but this is far from the case. English speaking countries have been using the word cafe since the 19th Century, but its origins are far earlier than that. Coffee and cafe both come from the Italian caffe which was sometime spelled as cavee and was commonly used in 16th Century Venice. Cavee derives from the Arabic word qahuwa, which means wine, so perhaps the olden day cafe was a place where you could drink wine.

The word restaurant goes back far, and is French in origin. During the 18th Century in Paris there was a movement for establishments to raise themselves from taverns and the food they served. Such establishments were called bouillon’s, which served fine soups, and they were a type of restorative which described the place.

The Differences Between a Cafe and a Restaurant

Firstly, nearly all cafes are restaurants, and the differential between the two is usually the type of services they offer. A restaurant will tend to offer food and drink and will be typically licensed. Restaurants do also serve coffee, but normally only regular coffee although this is rapidly changing.


In a restaurant there will typically be a wide range of food to choose from including, appetizers, entrees, salads, soups and desserts. All meals a brought to the table by waiters while the diner sits waiting for each course to be served. The primary seating for a restaurant is inside the establishment, but many restaurants now have an outside place for smokers.


Sometimes cafes are known as coffee-houses and there will be a wide selection of coffees and teas available, nearly all cafes will have a proper espresso machine that can also make cappuccino. Cafe’s traditionally serve light snacks and simple dishes, perhaps with an extensive range of pastries and cakes. Quite often the customer will queue at the counter for his coffee or snack which is already per-prepared. Recently cafes have extended their food selection, and they have grown into informal restaurants with a scaled down menu. Cafes often have an extended outdoor area, such as the famous street cafes of Paris, patrons sip their coffee and read a paper or watch the world go by.


A big differential between a cafe and a restaurant is the price, typically a cafe would be far cheaper as you would only be ordering a snack and a coffee. However, a restaurant offers many different types of cuisines with quality ranging from fast-food types to five star dining. The tip for service in a restaurant also is expected to be far higher than in a cafe, often in a simple cafe you would leave the small coins left in the change from your coffee, but in a restaurant the tip for service could be compulsory and as much as 10% of entire the bill.

Although it must be said that the service and quality of food in many cafes can be far superior to some restaurants, and cheaper too. Perhaps the terms restaurant and cafe are becoming a little blurred as to describe both types of business, the choice is yours to judge the establishment and call it what you like.