2021.8.31

What is a Bistro Restaurant?

Written by Kit Jenkin

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There are many different kinds of restaurants out there, each with its own perks and unique selling points. 

One of the most popular forms of the restaurant is the bistro. Today, bistros dot some of the busiest streets of the biggest cities of the world, and new bistros are opened every day. Some of the world’s most successful restaurants are bistros. 

In this blog, we’ll outline what a bistro is, what it does, and how they operate. 

What’s in a name?

The origins of the word “bistro” are hotly debated. Some etymologists believe that the word originated from Russian, and was an exhortation used by Russian soldiers who occupied Paris at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It is rumoured these soldiers used this word to encourage French waiters to serve them more quickly when they ate in Parisian restaurants [1]. 

However, lots of researchers dispute this since the word “bistro” does not appear in print until the late 19th century, and is supposed to be a disambiguation of several French words, including bistrot, bistingo, bistraud, bistouille or bistrouille [2].

The history of the bistro

The bistro first originated as a type of restaurant that was run out of the basement of an inn or apartment, where tenants would pay for both room and board. Landlords could thus increase their income by opening their kitchens to the paying public. Meals were often simple and were made with ingredients that could be easily kept. 

What is a bistro today?

A modern bistro is characterized by several things: the food served, price, and the formality of the dining experience. 

The type of food served in a bistro can be of any type, but bistros tend to serve either traditional French cuisine or locally inspired dishes. The food served is usually fairly modest - bistros tend not to serve large servings of food. This is usually down to space. Bistros are traditionally located in fairly small establishments. Because of this, space is at a premium, and serving large meals to large parties would require lots of table space. As a result, most bistros serve no more than parties of 4-6. 

Bistros also tend to serve food that is moderately priced, with dishes often coming in at low to mid-range levels. Bistros are designed to be accessible, and pricing meals too high might alienate potential diners. 

Finally, bistros are meant to be casual. The decor and atmosphere of a modern bistro is meant to be fairly plain, welcoming and easy-going. A bistro should never make the customer feel out of place, underdressed, or unprepared for the dining experience ahead. 

Bistros vs other establishments

When you ask what a bistro is, it can be very easy to confuse it with other types of establishments. It’s very common for words like “bistro”, “restaurant”, and “cafe” to be used interchangeably. However, these words can have very different meanings. 

Bistro vs restaurant

A “restaurant” is an umbrella term for an establishment that serves food and has many different subtypes, including:

  • Cafe
  • Bistro
  • Brasserie
  • Steak house
  • Tapas bar
  • Fast food restaurant

A bistro is a sub-type of the restaurant but refers to a very specific type of restaurant. A bistro serves good food at moderate prices to a fairly small dining room, usually with the option of alcohol. 

Bistro vs cafe

Bistros and cafes are more alike than they are dissimilar. They both tend to serve food and drinks to a fairly small dining room and usually offer moderately priced, simple food in an elaborated atmosphere. In this way, the customer experience is much the same. 

However, there are crucial differences. For instance, bistros tend to serve full meals at tables, whereas cafes may only serve snacks, cakes, or desserts. In fact, a cafe isn’t required to serve food at all for it to be considered a cafe. Cafes tend to be less expensive than bistros and tend to serve food and drinks that can be consumed quickly or even taken out. 

There is also a big difference in how customers use and experience both cafes and bistros. It’s quite common for a customer to spend a very long time in a cafe, reading, socializing, eating, or just hanging out. Bistros, on the other hand, are built around the concept of people coming in for a meal and leaving.

Bistro vs brasserie

The main difference between a bistro and a brasserie is the level of formality in the dining experience. A brasserie is a slightly more formal version of a bistro. While both bistros and brasseries are considered casual, a brasserie might employ the trappings of a more formal restaurant, like table linens, printed menus, and professional table service, all of which a bistro may not have. 

Bistro vs gastropub

A gastropub is a combination bar, restaurant, and pub that can serve drinks and meals. 

While a bistro is primarily concerned with serving meals, a gastropub serves meals and offers a large variety of drinks. The food served in a gastro pub may also be more refined and expensive. Gastropubs are meant to be more elevated, refined versions of normal pubs.

Bistro vs pub

A pub is short for “public house”. A pub is a place where people in their local community gather for drinks or a meal. The food served in pubs is often inspired by home-cooked meals. A pub’s atmosphere is very casual, often employing comfortable, lounge-like furniture and games like billiards and darts. 

The bistro centres on a meal-centric experience, whereas a pub offers meals, drinks, and a place to loiter if the customer wants to. 

Bistro vs bar

Both bistros and bars serve alcoholic beverages. But while bistros serve full meals, bars either serve no food or have very limited options such as snacks and finger foods. 

Bistros are meant for sit-down meals, whereas bars are mostly places for drinking and socializing. 

Run your bistro with Epos Now’s Restaurant POS

If you’re running your own bistro, you need some of the best technology out there to help make it a success. 

With an Epos Now Restaurant POS, you can take your bistro to the next level. Integrate hundreds of apps with your point of sale system to make running your establishment easier and more efficient. 

  • Track time-at-table and manage floor plans in real-time to boost table turnover
  • Eliminate costly errors with automated ordering and seamless communication
  • Streamline back of house operations with a comprehensive Kitchen Display System
  • Group by course and order type to speed up preparation and reduce customer wait times
  • rack inventory right down to ingredient level 
  • Automate purchase orders and use low stock warnings so you never run out of what you need
  • Protect your bottom line with accurate stock control
  • Minimize cash flow tied up in stock
  • Manage inventory and track stock levels between multiple locations

Contact Epos Now to learn more about our systems. 

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