Restaurant or Café? What is the Difference?

If you’ve ever decided between dining establishments, you probably recognize the difference between a classic Italian restaurant’s signature red-checked tablecloths and the iconic magic of a French café. While both fall into the dining category, there are key differences between the two since a restaurant refers to any place where you can get a sit-down meal with food and beverages, while a cafe mainly serves coffee.

Check out these 3 simple reasons why all cafes are restaurants but not all restaurants are cafes.

1. Coffee vs. Proper Food

A restaurant is the most popular form of dining. Most people go to restaurants for regular food such as a sit-down meal with drinks. A restaurant typically has a wide range of options that include a breakfast, lunch, and supper menu.

Restaurants often represent a certain food style or cultural cuisine such as Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Indian, Korean, or down-home cooking. People tend to leave a restaurant once they finish their meal.


In contrast, cafes are associated with coffee. Most have a limited food menu that includes pastries and other drinks.

2. Different Origin Stories

Although many kinds of people visit restaurants and cafes today, the two types of eateries had very different histories.

Restaurants can represent a casual experience or the height of fine dining with fancy interiors, gourmet cooking, and first-class waitstaff service.

The café concept predates restaurants and served as a popular social hub with Middle-Eastern roots.

When Kiva Han, the first known cafe, opened in Constantinople in 1475, street cafes already existed as places for coffee, socialization, board games, and religious discussion in the city of Mecca on the Arabian Peninsula. By the seventeenth century, coffee traveled from the Ottoman Empire to Europe.

Popularized by aristocrats, artists, and Enlightenment figures, coffeehouses sprang up across Europe. Great minds such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot frequented the Café Procope. They became spaces for socialization, intellectual discussion, and a hotbed for artists, writers, and revolutionaries. In fact, the seeds of the French Revolution sprang from the Palais Royale Cafe.

It’s no surprise that the first so-called restaurant originated in France. In 1765, a French soup salesman turned chef opened a restaurant near the Louvre that sold soup and a meal menu. On the eve of the French Revolution, Antoine Beauvilliers opened the first eatery to blend fine interiors with gourmet cooking and outstanding service.

3. Dining vs. Hangout

Most people wouldn’t dream of working remotely or hanging out at a restaurant since the unspoken etiquette is to eat and leave so the restaurant can serve new patrons.

Cafes don’t operate that way. They identify as places where anyone wanting coffee and a quiet corner can come to spend time. It’s expected that people will buy drinks, study, relax, work, or visit at a leisurely pace.

The Bottom Line

People associate cafes with coffee and socialization. They are places to visit, relax, or reflect.

Restaurants have a rich history centered around the atmosphere, food, and service.

Restaurants and cafes serve as places with different options and goals. Whether you prefer a leisurely coffee or a proper menu is up to you.