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Cafe vs. Restaurant: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on October 4, 2023
A place offering light meals, drinks, and casual ambience. An establishment serving full meals, typically with a more extensive menu

Key Differences

A cafe typically provides a casual atmosphere where guests might enjoy light meals, beverages, particularly coffee, and perhaps pastries. On the other hand, a restaurant usually presents a more formal environment and provides a wider range of meals that traverse from appetizers to desserts.
Cafe menus often emphasize snack items, sandwiches, and sweet treats, which contrasts with a restaurant that often displays a diverse menu, encompassing various cuisines and meal courses, from starters to main courses and desserts.
While cafes may foster a leisurely atmosphere, encouraging patrons to linger over a coffee and a book, restaurants may have a structured dining experience, with patrons selecting from a menu and being served at their table by waitstaff.
Generally, cafes might have a smaller operational scale and space, typically accommodating a more limited clientele. In contrast, restaurants often cater to a broader audience, often possessing larger dining spaces and sometimes even private dining rooms.
From a culinary viewpoint, cafes often center around a comfortable, consistent menu, while restaurants might employ chefs to curate a menu that may also include seasonal and specialty dishes, reflecting culinary art and expertise.

Comparison Chart

Menu Focus

Light meals and beverages
Extensive multi-course menu


Casual, often cozy
Can range from casual to formal

Primary Beverage

Coffee and related drinks
A wider range of beverages

Service Style

Often counter service
Typically table service


Casual diners, coffee lovers
Diverse, from casual to upscale

Cafe and Restaurant Definitions


A cafe is a small eatery that primarily serves coffee and light snacks.
Let's meet at the cafe for a coffee and chat.


A restaurant is an establishment where people pay to sit and eat meals prepared by chefs.
We are dining at a fancy restaurant tonight.


Some cafes also offer a limited selection of meals, such as sandwiches.
I ordered a delicious tuna sandwich at the cafe.


Restaurants can cater to different meal services, like lunch or dinner.
The restaurant opens at 11 AM for brunch.


A cafe might be known for its specialty coffee blends and pastries.
The cafe near work has the best espresso.


A restaurant may feature a particular cuisine or theme in its offerings.
The new restaurant in town specializes in sushi.


Cafes often provide a casual, relaxed environment for patrons.
The cafe down the street has the coziest armchairs.


Restaurants typically offer table service and a varied menu.
The restaurant served a delectable duck à l'orange.


A restaurant serving coffee and other beverages along with baked goods or light meals.


Upscale restaurants often focus on culinary expertise and fine dining experiences.
The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star.


Alternative form of café


A business establishment where meals are served to the public.


(South Africa) A convenience store, originally one that sold coffee and similar basic items.


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.


A coffeehouse; a restaurant, especially a small restaurant where drinks and snacks are sold; also, a room in a hotel or restaurant where coffee and liquors are served.


An eating house.


A small restaurant where drinks and snacks are sold


A building where people go to eat


Cafes often become social hubs where people meet for informal gatherings.
The local cafe hosts a weekly poetry reading.


Is "cafe" a French word?

Yes, "cafe" originates from the French word "café," meaning coffee.

What is a "cafe culture"?

"Cafe culture" refers to the social and cultural practices of frequenting cafes, enjoying coffee, and engaging in social or intellectual activities there.

Can a cafe serve alcoholic beverages?

Some cafes do serve alcoholic beverages, but it's not universal.

Is a cafe the same globally?

While the basic concept is similar, cafes can vary in offerings and culture globally.

What is a "sidewalk cafe"?

A "sidewalk cafe" is a cafe with outdoor seating on the sidewalk or pavement.

Does a cafe always serve coffee?

Typically, yes. Cafes are known for serving coffee and coffee-related drinks.

Is a cafe usually informal?

Generally, yes. Cafes often have a casual and relaxed atmosphere.

What's the plural form of "cafe"?

The plural form is "cafes" (or "cafés" if keeping the French accent).

Can a cafe have live performances?

Yes, some cafes host live performances like music or poetry readings.

What does "Internet cafe" mean?

An "Internet cafe" is a cafe that provides computers with internet access for customer use, often for a fee.

Do restaurants only serve full meals?

While typically associated with full meals, some restaurants also offer a la carte options.

What's a "Michelin star" in a restaurant context?

A "Michelin star" is a prestigious rating, indicating high-quality dining in a restaurant guide published by the Michelin company.

What is a "restaurant chain"?

A "restaurant chain" refers to a series of restaurants operating under the same brand and format.

What does "a la carte" in a restaurant mean?

"A la carte" refers to ordering individual dishes rather than a fixed-price meal.

Can restaurants specialize in a specific cuisine?

Yes, restaurants often specialize in particular culinary styles or regional cuisines.

What is a "fast-food restaurant"?

A "fast-food restaurant" serves food quickly, often in a casual, self-service manner.

What's the origin of the word "restaurant"?

"Restaurant" derives from the French word "restaurer" which means to restore or refresh.

Can a restaurant also be a cafe?

Some establishments may function as both, offering casual cafe-like offerings and full meals.

Is it "restaurateur" or "restauranteur" for a restaurant owner?

The correct term is "restaurateur" without the "n."

What does "bistro" mean in relation to restaurants?

A "bistro" is a small, casual restaurant, often with a French influence, offering simple meals and sometimes alcoholic beverages.
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
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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