Restaurant or Café or Bistro or Diner. What is the difference?


Who doesn’t love to eat? While we need to eat to survive, it’s always great to have a special meal. When you choose to eat out rather than cook at home, where do you choose to go?

How do you know if the place that you want to meet your friends and family is a café, restaurant, bistro, or diner? The differences between these types of eating establishments is explained in detail below!

How to Classify Places to Eat Out

Sometimes, it will be very easy to classify your favorite place to eat because the categories will be specified in the name. For those places to eat that don’t have such an indicator, you can choose from the most appropriate term below!

You can use your best knowledge of the relative pricing, menu offerings, and atmosphere of the place to pick one.

restaurant or cafe


Cafes may be one of the most common types of restaurant! They typically are not for eating full meals, instead serving foods like pastries, cookies, and cold and hot sandwiches. They usually offer food for breakfast and options for lunch, but would probably not be suitable for dinner.

They tend to be smaller and are a place for informal meetings and getting coffee. The main highlight of cafes are usually the drinks that they offer, from coffee to soda to specialty drinks that make the café stand out.

A lot of cafés have outdoor seating as well as indoor seating and may include free Wi-Fi as some clients will like to go to cafes to get some work or studying done.

Examples of cafes include brands like Starbucks and other coffee shops and local bakeries that have a place for you to sit down and enjoy a snack! Your local bookshop or library might also have an attached café.


The term restaurant is difficult to define because many places to eat can be considered restaurants. Restaurants has two uses:

  • A general term of places to eat
  • A place to eat that has a full menu and individual tables for you to sit down

For the second definition, restaurants can also be broken down into family-style or formal, and may be a bar and grill or steakhouse.

Family-style restaurants are typically those that have a specific kid’s menu and target families. They tend to have very relaxed atmospheres and be more reasonably priced. The menu is nothing very fancy, but can provide a nice night out with the entire family. Examples include Macaroni Grill, IHOP, Waffle House, and Denny’s.

Formal restaurants are those that are often used for important business meetings or dates. The prices for the options may be slightly higher than other restaurants, or they may be extravagantly high and serve exotic foods including escargot and caviar.

They may have tables for several people to dine together, but they more often have tables for groups of two. Examples include The Melting Pot.

Bar and Grills are a type of restaurant that is more closely related to family-style. They have two distinct sections, one of which is the bar. At the center of the restaurant, the bar is where adults can go to buy alcoholic drinks and usually watch different sports games.

Surrounding the bar are various tables for families, who can order different foods that are made on a grill. These can include fajitas, pasta, seafood, and hamburgers. Examples include Applebee’s, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, TGI Fridays, and Ruby Tuesdays.

Steakhouses tend to be a mix between a bar and grill and a formal restaurant. As the name suggests, they often serve steak and other higher-end meats to both couples and families wanting to treat themselves.

They are similar to bar and grills, as they often also serve alcohol and offer different types of grilled foods. Examples include Texas Roadhouse, Charlie Brown’s Fresh Grill, and Longhorn Steakhouse.


What is Bistro?

Bistros were originally introduced in Paris, and over time migrated throughout the world. They tend to be less common than other forms of restaurants and are just slightly different from cafes.

Bistros serve full meals, so you could go to one for lunch or dinner and be satisfied. The options are moderately priced and the setting tends to be very laid back, just like the café.

A bistro is typically known for its food and atmosphere, which can be busy and lively. You might see couples on a casual date together or friends getting together to hang out.

Historically, bistro menus held foods that were very simple to make and could be made in quantity, such as sandwiches and salads. Owners served wine and coffee as drinks to complement the food, but unlike cafes, the food was the focus.

Examples of bistros are what you might imagine when you think of a casual dining place in Paris.


Diners originated in the United States as small establishments run out of wagons. They did not have tables or many places to sit. Instead, the wagons had a counter that jutted out its side, allowing customers to walk up to it and place their order.

They were meant to serve blue-collar workers that needed a quick meal after work or during lunch, so they were not made for families to dine together. As a result, the atmosphere in traditional diners are very interactive and friendly as everyone sits on bar stools near the counter and talks to the waiters and each other while eating.

Modern diners can be family-friendly; they might have booths that allow groups to sit together. While they may feature a counter, most people will be able to sit at a table.

Now, diners have spread to Western Europe and all over North America. It is rare to see diners in other parts of the world. They typically serve different kinds of Western/American foods, especially meals like hamburgers, fries, club sandwiches, fried chicken, pancakes, omelets, and hot dogs.

Many of the options are fried or grilled, and can be accompanied by options like limitless coffee and milkshakes for drinks. You can pay one price for the coffee and drink to your heart’s desire – but just be warned that the coffee is usually not very good!

Another characteristic of diners is their flexible hours. Since they serve all kinds of workers, they are often open late into the night. Hours can be something like 6am to 12pm, or 24 hours, so you will always have a diner to go to eat!

Examples of well-known diner chains include Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries; Johnny Rockets; and Shake n’ Shake.

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