Difference Between Cafe and Restaurant

Difference Between Cafe and Restaurant

The biggest question of the century; the difference between cafe and restaurant has been making rounds on the internet lately. Perhaps, the way we use the two terms interchangeably nowadays is the reason behind all the confusion or there might actually be more to it than we think we know.

It goes without saying that the English language is an ever-changing field and arguments like the one we are about to discuss in this article shouldn’t come as a surprise to you when it happens.

And there’s no doubt you must’ve come across words with different spelling and pronunciation but the same meaning. It’s a common occurrence, not only in English but in other languages as well.

But can we say the same thing for a cafe and a restaurant? That they are those types of words that have the same meaning but with different pronunciation and spelling?

Come to think of it, what actually differentiates a cafe from a restaurant in the first place, is it the coffee, lattes, or ambiance? If so, what happens then when a restaurant starts serving coffee and lattes? Does that automatically mean it is no longer a restaurant but a cafe?

Like I said earlier, there’s a lot to these two concepts than we know and maybe what we do know isn’t all there is to know. Anyway, there’s only one way to find out, right? You bet!

In this article, we take an in-depth look to try to analyze and understand these two terms close enough to see whether or not a difference actually exists. And towards the end, we will look at some common questions that you can’t help but ask yourself so you can better understand the difference between a cafe and a restaurant.

So, to set the stage and avoid any confusion that may ensue as we proceed, let’s, first of all, define each one of them.

What Is A Cafe?


A cafe, according to Google, is a small eating and drinking establishment, historically a coffeehouse, usually featuring a limited menu.

Of course, the word “cafe” didn’t just appear out of nowhere. There’s a history tied to it.

The history of cafes is a very interesting one because it shows how not only humans but how words too, evolve. Although there’s been a lot of speculation on the history of cafes, one thing we do know for a fact is that it has an Arabic origin even if the French still claim ownership.

As a matter of fact, the cafe’s history can be traced far back to the city of Mecca and the Arabian Peninsula. Back then, as history tells us, cafes were known as coffeehouses where people-mostly intellectuals meet, hang out, and play board games while sipping a cup of coffee. 

But as the years went by, it is now called a cafe and serves as a joint where people from all walks of life go to have a good time and simply relax. People like artists and writers go to a nearby cafe, most times, to get some work done because it is believed that a cup of coffee can contribute to your creative momentum as you go through your day.

Who doesn’t like a cup of coffee first thing in the morning?

Cafes typically have a small food menu and they only serve coffee, tea, and other drinks in that same category, like lemonade, etc.

What is A Restaurant?

difference between cafe and restuarant

Restaurant, unlike a cafe, is any establishment that serves well-prepared food plus beverages for diners. A restaurant is where you visit if you want to eat a full course meal in style. And, like the cafes, restaurants also have a history of how they became what they are today.

It all goes back to the 18th century in France. Even though people have been selling food of some sort prior to that time, the term “restaurant” only became popularized in 1765 after a french chef called A. Boulanger started a business that sold soup and other “restorative” food in Paris. 

A few decades following that event, Antoine Beauvilliers opened the La Grande Taverne de Londres which, according to history, was the first-ever eatery to integrate excellent cooking and good interior decor with the service from waiters who take orders from diners.

Although many might argue that they are not the first ever restaurant per se, they did actually set in motion the underlying principles restaurants of today use to serve their customers.


Today, without anyone telling you, it’s easy to tell a restaurant apart from other food establishments. They are typically known for their speed, formality, and specialty, among other things.

However, does that mean the difference between the two terms, cafe and restaurant, is clear? Maybe. Let’s take a look at some of the major differences they have from each other and see if we can get a satisfying answer to that question.

The Major Difference Between Cafe and Restaurant

  1. The word cafe originally came from the Arabic word ‘qahwa.’ Restaurant, on the other hand, was derived from the French word ‘restaurer.’
  2. The signature menu item of a cafe is coffee while that of a restaurant depends on the type of food the restaurant serves as its specialty. You can have Japanese, Chinese, North Indian, and South Indian, to name but a few.
  3.  You mostly visit a restaurant to have proper food (might be lunch or dinner) but the cafe is mostly where you go to quickly grab a cup of coffee and a snack and that’s about it.
  4. In a cafe, you will help yourself to what you want but in a restaurant, all you will have to do is place an order and a waiter or waitress will be there to take your orders and send them over to the kitchen where the food will be prepared and served to you.
  5. Cafes have an informal setup while restaurants, especially the high-end ones, have a formal setting.
  6. Restaurants are often more expensive compared to cafes where there’s a limited number of customers and not too many items on the menu for you. And the reason why restaurants are expensive is that they offer a wide variety of food and can seat more people than a cafe.
  7. Restaurants can be as big as they want but cafes are usually small only in rare cases like Starbucks where there’s a chain of cafes serving different types of coffee.
  8. You will always find an espresso machine in a cafe but not in a restaurant because restaurants focus more on full meals.
  9. The menu in a cafe is usually placed on the wall where people can see it once they come in but in a restaurant, it is quite the opposite. The menu in a restaurant will be on the table when you enter or will be handed to you by the waiters to take your orders.
  10. You will mostly see restaurants open for only lunch and dinner (and sometimes breakfasts) but a cafe stays open all day long.

Is Cafe Considered A Restaurant?

Cafes are like restaurants minus the waiter service and the full course meal that they serve. A lot of people mistake cafes for restaurants and restaurants for cafes these days because you can hardly differentiate them.

One other reason why a cafe cannot be considered to be a restaurant is the ordering fashion. At a cafe, customers make an order at the counter and serve themselves. Plus, the table arrangement is not really in any particular order so you can sit at any vacant spot you find. 

Also, the items you will find on a cafe’s menu mostly will include coffee, sandwiches, tea, hot chocolate, cookies, cakes, or even espresso. All they offer in a cafe are light snacks and drinks that you can quickly grab whenever you feel hungry during the day and, perhaps, a proper restaurant meal would eat up too much of your time if you were to go for it.

How is a Coffee Shop Different from a Specialty Restaurant?

A coffee shop is a small, casual, informal establishment serving coffee and other light refreshments to its customers. The signature menu item for a coffee shop is obviously coffee and for a specialty restaurant is the food they know how to prepare very well and their customers have also known them for that cuisine.

A specialty restaurant serves only one type of food to its customers and that’s what makes them special. Because with time, they will become the go-to spot for people who want to eat that particular type of food.

Take, for instance, an Indian restaurant in America that serves only Indian foods, there’s no doubt it will definitely only attract customers who enjoy Indian foods.

In summary, a coffee shop is known for coffee and a specialty restaurant is known for the type of food they cook best. 


As I mentioned earlier, this debate on whether or not a cafe is different from a restaurant is a very confusing one and it’s getting harder and harder to spot the difference at first glance. Therefore, let’s take a moment to answer some of the common questions that pop up whenever we talk about topics like this.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it called a restaurant?

“Restaurant” is actually a French verb called restaurer, which is “to restore oneself.” Moreover, the first true French restaurants that started decades ago were seen as a place to get healthy foods and the favorite dish back then was bouillon.

What makes a place a cafe?

Refreshments like cakes or snacks. The word “cafe” itself literally stands for coffee. Therefore, once any food establishment starts serving coffee more than other food items then it’s safe to say that establishment is a cafe.

Why is a restaurant better than a cafe?

A restaurant is better than a cafe because of its more diverse and inclusive food menu plus the waiter service you enjoy as a customer. However, the answer to this question will depend on what you enjoy most and the kind of place you prefer to go to. It might be a cafe or a restaurant, whichever it is, you’ll definitely refer to that one as better than the other. 

What is the difference between a bar and a restaurant?

In this aspect, we can say the difference is clear because a bar is a licensed establishment where only alcoholic beverages are sold while a restaurant is a place with wide space and a cool ambiance where you can sit, order a full course meal and eat it there on the premises.
Why people call it a “bar” is because the drinks you order will be served on a counter or a bar. Of course, restaurants do serve alcoholic beverages but it’s not the only thing they serve. They only offer it because some customers might request it and it wouldn’t sound good when they don’t have everything their customer wants to make the most of their time in the restaurant.


Although it’s true that cafes share certain similarities with a restaurant basically because the line between the two has gotten blurry to the point where there’s an overlap. Thanks to the diversity in businesses nowadays, there’s still a difference and as we’ve seen from the beginning of this article to this point, cafes have a world of their own compared to several other food establishments.

But we can’t conclude that all cafes are restaurants but not all restaurants are cafes. We can’t do that because most restaurants choose to go by cafes mainly because it sounds way fancier than being called a restaurant.

At the end of the day, the key difference between a cafe and a restaurant lies in the type of things they offer on their menu. If a quick bite is what you want then a cafe is the best place to go to get it, but if a full meal is what you want, a restaurant is the best place to go.

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