Deciding Between Restaurants Or Cafes

Whether you're celebrating a special event, or just feel like taking a day off from cooking, going out to eat can be an enjoyable experience. But you need to make sure you choose a venue that matches your needs. In this guide we'll look at the differences between restaurants and cafes. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Restaurants vs Cafes

While there are exceptions to some of these rules, here are some of the basic differences between restaurants and cafes:

Restaurant Cafe
Multiple meal styles
Accommodates large groups
Large wait staff
Low prices
Casual atmosphere
A good place to work on a laptop

When Should I Go to a Cafe?

  • To get a cup of coffee or tea
  • If you want to read a book or get some work done during your meal
  • Small, casual gathering
  • Getting a quick bite to eat

Cafe Etiquette

When Should I Go to a Restaurant?

  • Business meeting
  • Get-together with a large group
  • Romantic evening
  • Special occasion

Restaurant Etiquette


The two business are quite similar on the surface: they both offer prepared food and drink and give you a place to sit down and enjoy a meal. But each establishment offers a unique experience. A restaurant provides people with a formal atmosphere where they can enjoy high-quality, freshly-prepared food. Those who are looking for a more casual venue where they can get a cup of coffee and a quick bite to eat should go to a cafe instead. Once you know what each setting has to offer, it's easy to which one is right for you.

In Depth

Restaurants have been around in some form or another since Ancient Greece and Rome. Called a thermopolium, they were small, open air buffets that served food and drinks to paying customers. Since many people didn't have their own kitchen or cooking space, purchasing prepared food was very popular. It was also a great way to socialize. Cafes sprung up years later in the 15th century. Originating in the Middle East, they were often the scene of political gatherings. Over time, both types of establishments sprung up all over the world with a variety of offerings. So, how do you choose which one to go to?

It's good to know the general definition of each one. A restaurant is a sit down establishment that serves food and drinks for multiple meal styles. They provide options for appetizers, entrees, soups, salads, and dessert. Usually, they will have a different menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A cafe is typically a smaller coffee or tea house that will provide a variety of snacks to supplement specialty beverages. This can include pastries, sandwiches, and sweets.

First, you'll need to think about the kind of atmosphere you're looking for. Cafes are typically cozier and more casual. They'll usually have seating available for an average of four people, so you won't want to bring in a huge party. If you're with an intimate group of friends looking to split a few small plates and socialize, a cafe is a good way to go. Restaurants offer a more refined experience, with seating for many people and more employees on staff. A birthday dinner with family and friends or working meal with colleagues are both great activities for a restaurant to accommodate.

A birthday dinner with family and friends or working meal with colleagues are both great activities for a restaurant to accommodate.

Next, you'll want to consider your budget. Restaurants range from moderately priced meals to elegant, expensive dishes. A full bar will typically be on site, which means a trained bartender is available to create quality cocktails. Overall, a full meal with drinks and dessert will cost more at a restaurant. There's also the tip to think about. You'll have a dedicated server to take care of your party. If they provide remarkable service, it is expected that you give them a gratuity of at least 20% of the total bill.

Because cafes are more casual, they'll usually offer lower priced items. You may even order at a counter, which means no one will wait on you. Beer and wine might be available, but more complicated spirits usually are not. This means it's easier to get away with spending less at a cafe.

Both types of eateries will provide food. Cafes are known for lighter items that can include sandwiches, soups, and salads. The business can be upscale or casual, but there is not usually a chef making items to order. This means you'll be receiving food that has been prepared ahead of time. For a quick lunch or coffee break, a cafe is ideal. A restaurant, however, will have an extended menu. Depending on the time of day, each dining establishment might have particular foods available. At a sit down location, you'll likely be presented with many more options.

The business can be upscale or casual, but there is not usually a chef making items to order.

You also need to consider where you are in the world. In capital cities like New York, Paris or Los Angeles, even a cafe can be expensive. That's not to say you can't check out a chain restaurant that has a low price point either. Tourist destinations or areas that are typically very crowded with people tend to have higher prices. It's always best to review, compare and contrast menus so you know you'll get the best deal.

Another thing to consider is how long you're looking to stay. Sitting down for hours with a large party is perfectly acceptable at a restaurant. However, lingering with a very small table can be frowned upon. The staff is looking to accommodate as many people as possible so they can generate more business.

On the other hand, cafes are used to customers hanging out. Often you'll see patrons with a small snack and coffee working on a project. Because of the casual atmosphere, socializing, reading or writing for the day is commonplace. Always be sure to check store hours, because a cafe will likely close much earlier than a restaurant.

Often you'll see patrons with a small snack and coffee working on a project.

Not all restaurants and cafes are created equal. Your experience may vary depending on the region, reputation, and ownership of any establishment. A good rule of thumb is to consider restaurants for larger parties, higher price ranges, and professional situations. There will be more in the way of menu options and service. Choose a cafe for an intimate, easygoing meal. Lighter, readymade foods and uncomplicated drinks will usually accompany a self serve, no frills atmosphere. You can bring a few friends or a book and settle in. A great meal and good experience are key, so be sure to choose the option that best suits your needs.