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Bistro vs. Restaurant: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on November 21, 2023
A bistro is a small, casual dining establishment offering simple meals, while a restaurant is a broader term for a place that prepares and serves food to customers.

Key Differences

A bistro and a restaurant are both places where people can dine, but they differ in ambiance, menu offerings, and often in size. A bistro is typically characterized by its intimate setting and its simple, yet flavorful menu. Originating from France, the term "bistro" denotes a place that offers modest, comfort dishes, often with a home-cooked feel. On the contrary, the word "restaurant" is more general, referring to any establishment that serves food to patrons, regardless of its size or cuisine type.
In terms of ambiance and setting, a bistro leans towards being cozier and more informal. They are often family-owned, exuding a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Many times, the owner is also the chef, ensuring a personal touch in the dishes served. Restaurants, however, can vary widely in ambiance — from fast food joints to luxurious dining spaces. The term "restaurant" encompasses a spectrum of dining experiences, from the casual to the upscale.
The menu at a bistro is usually concise, focusing on a few specialties that the bistro is known for. The dishes are straightforward, prioritizing quality and flavor over complexity or presentation. On the other hand, a restaurant can have an expansive menu, covering various cuisines, courses, and dietary preferences. Depending on the restaurant type, there might be an emphasis on presentation, unique ingredients, or diverse culinary techniques.
Bistros, being more intimate, might not offer extensive seating options. They are designed for quicker, more relaxed dining experiences. Restaurants, depending on their size and type, might offer varied seating arrangements, from booths to private dining areas, catering to different customer needs, be it a quick lunch or a prolonged dinner.
Size and location can also distinguish a bistro from a restaurant. Bistros are traditionally smaller and might be tucked away in neighborhoods, offering a localized dining experience. Restaurants can be found in various sizes and settings, from bustling city centers to tranquil outskirts, providing diverse dining experiences depending on their target audience.

Comparison Chart


Cozy, informal atmosphere.
Varies widely, from casual to upscale.


Typically concise with simple, flavorful dishes.
Can be extensive with a variety of cuisines.

Size and Setting

Smaller, neighborhood-focused.
Can range in size and be in various locations.


Often family-owned with a personal touch.
Can be individually-owned, franchised, or corporate.

Service Speed

Designed for quicker, relaxed dining.
Varies based on the restaurant type.

Bistro and Restaurant Definitions


An intimate place serving straightforward, comfort dishes.
The bistro's cozy ambiance made our dinner feel like a family gathering.


A venue where customers order, eat, and pay for food.
The restaurant's elegant interior design complemented its gourmet menu.


A small, casual eatery that offers simple meals.
The bistro down the street is known for its delicious homemade pies.


An establishment where meals are prepared and served to customers.
The restaurant offers both vegetarian and vegan options.


A dining venue that emphasizes a homey atmosphere and flavorful food.
The local bistro is our go-to spot for authentic French cuisine.


An enterprise catering to patrons seeking prepared meals.
The new restaurant downtown has garnered rave reviews for its innovative dishes.


A small, informal restaurant serving wine.


A place providing a range of food and dining experiences.
The restaurant on the bay has stunning views and exquisite seafood dishes.


A small bar, tavern, or nightclub.


A business serving food and beverages in a dining setting.
The restaurant offers a special brunch menu on Sundays.


A small restaurant.


A business establishment where meals are served to the public.


A small bar or pub.


An eating establishment in which diners are served food, usually by waiters at their tables but sometimes (as in a fast food restaurant) at a counter.
That Italian restaurant serves some of the best food I've ever had in my life.


(rare) to eat at a bistro


An eating house.


A small informal restaurant, especially one serving alcoholic beverages.


A building where people go to eat


A nightclub.


A small informal restaurant; serves wine


A modest dining establishment, often family-owned.
We had a delightful lunch at a bistro in the heart of Paris.


A petite eatery with a concise menu and warm ambiance.
Their bistro specializes in Mediterranean flavors and wines.


Is a bistro always cheaper than a restaurant?

Not necessarily. Prices at a bistro depend on its location, ingredients, and reputation, just like at a restaurant.

Do bistros primarily serve French cuisine?

While the term "bistro" originated in France, bistros can serve a variety of cuisines, not just French.

Can a restaurant also be categorized as a bistro?

Yes, if the restaurant offers a cozy, informal setting and a simple menu, it can also be considered a bistro.

Can a bistro offer fine dining experiences like some restaurants do?

While bistros are generally informal, some may offer a more upscale or gourmet dining experience.

Do all restaurants serve alcoholic beverages, and do bistros?

Not all restaurants serve alcohol. Similarly, some bistros might offer alcoholic beverages, especially wines, while others may not.

Is the service at a bistro always quicker than at a restaurant?

Bistros often provide quicker, more relaxed service, but it's not a strict rule and can vary.

Do restaurants have a broader menu compared to bistros?

Generally, yes. Restaurants tend to have more extensive menus, while bistros focus on a few specialties.

What distinguishes a bistro from a typical restaurant?

A bistro is smaller, offers a cozy ambiance, and serves simpler meals, while a restaurant can vary in size, ambiance, and menu offerings.

Are restaurants always larger in size compared to bistros?

Not always, but restaurants tend to vary more in size, while bistros are generally on the smaller side.

Can a restaurant be part of a chain while a bistro is standalone?

Restaurants can be part of chains or standalone. Bistros are typically independent, but some might belong to a small chain.

Which is more likely to have outdoor seating, a bistro or a restaurant?

Both can have outdoor seating, but bistros, with their informal vibe, might more commonly offer it.

Can I find a bistro in a mall, or are they usually street-side?

While bistros are traditionally street-side or in neighborhoods, modern malls might have spaces that capture the bistro vibe.

Do restaurants typically require reservations while bistros do not?

High-end restaurants might require reservations, but many do not. Bistros, being informal, usually don't require them but might accept them.

Are there restaurants that offer dishes from multiple cuisines, and do bistros?

Many restaurants offer multi-cuisine menus. Bistros usually stick to one cuisine or a fusion of a few.

Do bistros and restaurants both cater to takeout orders?

Both bistros and restaurants might offer takeout, especially in modern times with the rise of food delivery services.

Which is older in origin, the bistro or the restaurant concept?

The concept of restaurants predates bistros, but both have deep historical roots in dining culture.

Is a café similar to a bistro?

They share similarities, but a café emphasizes coffee and light snacks, while a bistro focuses on meals.

Do bistros usually have fewer staff members than restaurants?

Given their smaller size, bistros often have fewer staff members compared to larger restaurants.

Can a restaurant serve fast food?

Yes, fast food joints are a type of restaurant, while bistros offer sit-down dining experiences.

Is a bistro's atmosphere always relaxed, or can it be formal?

Bistros typically have a relaxed atmosphere, but there might be exceptions, especially in upscale neighborhoods.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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