So French France

Bistro, café, restaurant, brasserie... Who does what ?

France is also the postcard of the small neighborhood or village bistro, the Parisian café and small or large restaurants. This is still true today, even if the number of bistros is decreasing. There were a little more than 38,000 "drinking establishments" in France in 2022 (including bistros and cafés) and a little more than 92,000 "traditional" restaurants, i.e. not including fast food restaurants. There are differences between the different establishments, which Monsieur de France reminds us, even if there is a huge common point between them: a certain art of living...


A café / bistro.


Some differences but mostly French institutions


There are cafés all over France, in Paris and in the provinces. Some are small, others are very famous, like the Café de Flore in Paris. A café, which can also be a bar, is not always a bistro. A bistro is rather a small, popular place where you can have a drink at the counter or in the dining room, sometimes on the terrace. You can also eat "on the go", especially in the morning with a breakfast made of coffee and often croissants.


Un café à Montmartre. Photo choisie par monsieur de France : RuslanKal sur dépositphotos.A café in Montmartre. Photo chosen by monsieur de France : RuslanKal on dépositphotos.


In a bistro (or a small café), coffee and wine are originally served. Behind the counter (some are magnificent, in hammered zinc.) the owner or the boss who proposes the famous coffee, which gave its name to the place (one served coffee there), but also various alcohols, of the small muscadet (a dry white wine), with the beer, while passing by the known mixtures like the "kir cassis" or "blancass" (mixture of blackcurrant cream and white wine, due to the canon Kir, a deputy of Burgundy of the XXe century). There is also a wide choice of alcoholic drinks, especially aperitifs, from guignolet to martinis, as well as Ricard (an alcoholic drink made from aniseed that is diluted with water)... You can also eat there on the go at lunchtime. We often propose a dish of the day. One also crosses there people come to eat the midday.

Whether in a café or a bistro, people come to settle down, sometimes alone, but mostly accompanied to have a drink and, very often, to chat. It is a place where people meet.


Why a bistro?

The word "bistrot" (or bistro) is said to have originated in 1814 in occupied Paris after the defeat of Napoleon, where many Russian soldiers on horseback, the soldiers of Tsar Alexander I, would enter cafés or taverns and shout "bistro", which means "fast", to be served quickly. This has remained partly because the bistro is often a place of passage, where one eats fast and good traditional cuisine. It was in a bistro that a former executioner invented the "croque-monsieur" for a customer in a hurry.


Why a coffee?


Un couple à la terrasse d'un café. Photo choisie par : depositphotos.

A couple at the terrace of a café. Photo chosen by depositphotos.


Because originally coffee was served there. This drink was discovered by the French in the 17th century. It is an ambassador of Turkey, come to pay homage to Louis XIV in Versailles, which made him taste the "kawa", so known of the East. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the appearance of the first "cafés" (the first in Marseille) authorized by the king. The 19th century, with the arrival of coffee in large quantities from the colonies, saw the opening of many cafés, and coffee itself entering French homes (where it held the same place as tea for the English neighbors). People took their time to drink coffee and this has remained since a café is a place where one is more "posed" than in a bistro. It is often a place of exchange and conversation. It is also more elegant than a bistro. The waiter is often dressed (pants, shirt, sometimes apron) unlike the bistro, more simple.


Where is the oldest café in France?


It is said that the oldest café in France is the "Procope" café in Paris, founded in 1686, where the rare coffee was served, just discovered at the time by the Court of Louis XIV thanks to a Turkish ambassador.It was at the Procope that the great actors of the French Revolution met. Closed in 1890, it reopened in 1957. Today it is more a restaurant.


Le café "Procope" dont on dit qu'il est le plus vieux café de France. photo choisie par monsieurdefrance.Com : Depositphotos
The "Procope" café which is said to be the oldest café in France. photo chosen by monsieurdefrance.Com: Depositphotos


Others say that the oldest bistro in France is "chez Colette", a place opened in 1890 in Labastide-d'Armagnac, between the Landes and the Gers, in the south-west of France, where you can find everything that makes a French bistro: the counter, the tables, the bottles, the coffee percolator... In 2022, it was still part of the same family and it was run by Colette


Other names of a café or bistro:

A bistro, a bar, an estaminet, a rade (rather pejorative)


Un café à Saint Malo photo choisie par : depositphoto.

A café in Saint Malo photo chosen by depositphoto.



What is a brasserie ?



"here we serve at all hours".


It is often a much larger establishment than a café or a bistro. They are often found in busy places, tourist places but also around railway stations. Not surprising since the principle of a brasserie is to serve food at the table all day and evening (sometimes even at night). The waiters (often in traditional dress: black pants, white shirt and white apron) bring you the menu which offers a wide choice.


A la terrasse d'une brasserie parisienne. Photo choisie par : asinskki / Depositphotos.

On the terrace of a Parisian brasserie. Photo chosen by asinskki / Depositphotos.


For a long time the specialty of the Alsatians.


These breweries take their name from the fact that they were, originally, places where beer was served, beer that they often made themselves. They were often Alsatian houses since Alsace provided, with Lorraine, the bulk of the beer consumed in France. Often typical of the beginning of the 20th century, some of them are real historical monuments like the Lipp brewery in Paris or the Excelsior in Nancy. In the typical dishes that can be tasted in a brewery, Alsace is always there because you can eat sauerkraut. We also often see certain dishes on the menu like veal kidneys, stuffed pigs' feet...




A restaurant


Where does the word restaurant come from?


It is a place where one "restores" in other words where one eats. Originally, we used to talk about "restaurant" because we served "restoring" things, that is to say things that made you feel good by feeding you well. Broths at the origin, then dishes... And the word restaurant ended up replacing "l'auberge" (where one often slept too) in the French language.


Une table de restaurant :  photo choisie par : pitrs10 Depositphotos

A restaurant table: photo chosen by pitrs10 Depositphotos


The map, the menu...


In a restaurant, a waiter will bring you a menu (sometimes posted on the wall) or a menu that shows what you are offered and the corresponding prices. In many restaurants, when you invite someone, you can ask the waiter to bring a "silent menu" , i.e. without the prices so that the person you invite does not feel obliged to take the cheapest dish. You can choose the dishes "à la carte", that is to say each dish in turn, but it is often more expensive thana "menu" which proposes dishes to choose from a shorter list to benefit from a price.

We can do "starter, main course, dessert" but more and more often people take main course and dessert. Very often they bring you bread (unlike in other countries, in France they offer you bread in the restaurant), sometimes with butter (this is always the case in Brittany). When you want free water, you ask for a "carafe", otherwise you will be offered "flat" (without bubbles) or sparkling (with bubbles).


Une carte au restaurant / photo choisie par : IgorVetushko Depositphotos_161946350_S

A menu in a restaurant / photo chosen by IgorVetushko Depositphotos_161946350_S


The wines


We also choose the wines in the "wine list". You can find the wines according to the color (white, red, rosé), the terroirs (Bordeaux, Burgundy etc...) the name of the wines and of course the prices (by the glass, by the bottle, sometimes by the carafe, which is often the cheapest). When you are served wine, you are almost always asked to "taste" the wine. Not to give your opinion, but to be sure that it is not "corked", in other words that it has a slightly vinegary taste due to a defect of the cork (it is almost never the case anymore, but the tradition has remained). When the wine is corked, the bottle is replaced.


Du vin rouge / Photo choisie par shutterstock-1921328906




In France the service is "tip included", but it is always very welcome to round up the amount or to leave something to the waiter if he has been kind and competent.


Examples of typical drinks and meals


Hot drinks


  • One espresso : 30 Ml
  • A long one: 30 Ml of coffee but we add hot water to dilute it more


As with chocolate or tea, you will be offered sugar with it. You are free to use it or not.


Un petit café (on dit parfois un petit noir, en rapport avec la couleur de la boisson). Photo choisie par : depositphotos.

A small coffee. Photo chosen by depositphotos.


The beers


  • A "demi" : 25 Cl (there are 33 Cl glasses but we'll tell you before).
  • A "serious" (or a baron, or a pint) : 50 Cl.


For wine :


We can ask you if you prefer it dry, mellow (very sweet), fruity if it is white. You can also mix white wine with alcohol "cream" to flavour it, it is then called a "kir" (from the name of a French deputy from Burgundy: Canon Kir who made this drink famous in the 1950s). It can then be flavored with blackcurrant (it is the most frequent), blackberry, peach...


Alcohol abuse is dangerous for your health: consume in moderation.

Sorry for the translation, the translator worked in a bistro and was paid a lot of drinks. He is drunk

Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme is "monsieur de France" the author of this site.