Difference between a Café and a Restaurant
You will notice that there is a growing trend for dining establishments to use the terms café and restaurant interchangeably as if they both have the same meaning. However, the reality is that these two words mean very different things. Their differences are highlighted below.
The word café is of French origin, is used almost globally and is spelled the same in many different languages. The term was adopted English-speaking countries in the 19th century, but has a much longer history. In English, both the words coffee and café come from the Italian variation, caffe, which was first spelled cavee and used in Venice in the late 16th century. This term was derived from the Arabic word qahuwa, a term that was originally used for wine. However, after alcohol was banned by Mohammed, the name was given to coffee for its similar effects. The use of this term likely spread to Europe after trade was established with Turkey.[i]
Restaurants have a long history, but the modern concept of a restaurant really began in France during the 18th century and the word itself is also French. In an effort to provide a better quality of food than was served in local taverns, an establishment called a “Bouillon” was opened which served soups that were called restaurants, meaning “restoratives.” This term was eventually adopted to describe the establishments themselves.[ii]
Restaurants enjoy a very rich history and were first used in Ancient Greece and Rome where they were called thermopolia and served food and drinks. They were incredibly popular as many homes lacked kitchens and because socializing was a very important aspect of one’s life in these cultures. A typical thermopolium would have L-shaped counters with vessels that contained hot or cold food. Restaurants in the form of catering establishments grew in popularity in 11 century China and the industry became quite popular, eventually offering many styles of cuisine, a range of prices and even different religious requirements. However, the modern day restaurant really came into being in Paris in the 18 century and from their it spread through Europe and the United States. Now, restaurants can be found in almost any region of the world.[iii]
The history of cafes, or coffeehouses starts much later and originated in the Middle East. The first cafes were found in 15th century Mecca and were a place for political gatherings for the Muslim imams. They were banned in the early 16th century and several years later, the first one opened in Damascus and quickly thereafter, they were found in Cairo and Istanbul. Coffee and cafes spread to Europe in the 17th century and quickly became very popular. The first was in Venice but England and France established many shortly afterward. At the time, women were banned from many of the establishments, which is no longer the case. During the 19th and 20th centuries, cafes were commonly considered a meeting place for many artists across Europe. The first ones in the United States opened in New York City in the 20th century and are commonly also a venue for different types of entertainers. In contemporary times, coffeehouses or cafes are found in most populated areas of the world. They are so popular that there are also many specialized espresso bars as well.[iv]
The first and likely most obvious difference between a restaurant and a café is going to be the scope of their services. A restaurant is an encompassing establishment that serves food and drinks, including alcohol if they are properly licensed. Restaurants do typically serve coffee, but will usually only have regular or decaffeinated coffee. However, a patron will typically find a wide variety of options for the entire meal, including appetizers, entrées, soups, salads, and desserts. The meals are served by a waiter or waitress while the customer sits and each meal is made when a customer orders it. A restaurant’s primary seating space is located indoors though there is sometimes a small patio area for customers to enjoy during nice weather. At the end of the meal, it is customary to tip the waiter or waitress for their service.[v]
Cafes typically refer to coffeehouses and commonly you will find many different varieties of coffees and teas at a café, including specialty coffees such as mochas and lattes. They typically also have light snacks, such as pastries. A customer will usually go to the counter and order their drink and if they would like a snack, there is typically an array of already-prepared snacks to choose from. There is a growing tendency for a café to also refer to an informal restaurant with an abbreviated menu, commonly sandwiches and soups. Cafes tend to have a much larger outdoor seating area to allow customers to enjoy their coffee and refreshments at leisure-this is especially true when they are located in areas with mild weather.[vi]
Since a coffeehouse is an establishment that typically would only provide the coffee drink itself as well as maybe a snack, the cost of this experience is quite low, and would typically range between $2 and $10.
The experience at a restaurant is quite different and there are many types of cuisine as well as quality ranging from fast food to fine dining, which also means that the price can vary greatly. At one end of the range, it is possible to get a sandwich, or possibly even meal, for less than $5, however if one goes to a very highly rated restaurant, it can typically cost several hundred dollars or more. At a restaurant in which you are served food by staff you would also be expected to leave a tip on top of the total amount, which is not expected in cafes for the most part.
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[i] Coffeehouse. (n.d.). On Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffeehouse
[ii] Restaurant. (n.d.). On Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restaurant
[iii] Restaurant. (n.d.). On Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restaurant
[iv] Coffeehouse. (n.d.). On Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffeehouse