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What Is a Bistro? | Things to Know About Bistro Restaurant

Restaurant owners and food industry professionals should understand the different types of dining establishments. This includes the Bistro - a cozy, intimate restaurant that offers a casual dining experience with French-inspired dishes.

Do ever ask yourself, "what is a bistro?" This post covers the history of bistros and what sets it apart from other types of restaurant kitchens. In the end, you'll understand what makes a bistro a unique and appealing option for diners.

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What Is a Bistro?

A Bistro is a type of restaurant that typically offers a casual dining experience. Bistros are often small, family-owned restaurants with an intimate atmosphere and moderate prices. The menu typically includes French-inspired dishes such as steak frites, coq au vin, onion soup, and mussels in white wine sauce. Bistros may also offer classic pub food, such as burgers and fish and chips. 

Why Is It Called A Bistro?

It's unknown where the word "bistro" comes from. However, people assume it comes from the Russian word "быстрый", meaning "quickly," or the Parisian slang bistro, meaning "tavern" or "bar." The term, "bistro", first appeared in the English language around the year 1814. It referred to a small restaurant that served simple food quickly. 

Bistros were often associated with working-class neighborhoods with large immigrant populations. The atmosphere was informal and often loud, and the menu typically consisted of basic dishes such as steak frites, omelets, and salads. Bistros were also known for their low prices, which appealed to working-class clientele. Today, bistros offer a variety of food and drinks while maintaining their cozy and intimate atmosphere.

Bistro History

Bistros are small, cozy restaurants that serve simple, home-style food and drinks. They are typically found in France and integral to French culture. The history of bistros goes back to the 1900s.

The word "bistro" comes from the Russian word pronounced "bystry," which means "quickly." The Russian soldiers who occupied Paris during the Napoleonic Wars would shout "bystro" when they wanted to be served quickly at local restaurants. The French eventually adopted the word and transformed it into "bistro."

Bistros were originally small cafes that catered to workers and tradespeople. They served simple, affordable meals and were often located near factories and workshops. Bistros were also popular with artists and writers, who found them welcoming and affordable places to eat and socialize.

During the late 19 and 20th centuries, the bistros in Paris became popular gathering places for many people. Famous writers including Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, would often visit bistros in Paris. Bistros also became associated with French literary and artistic movements, such as the Dadaists and the Surrealists.

Many bistros closed or were repurposed during World War II to serve the war effort. However, after the war, bistros experienced a resurgence in popularity. They became associated with the "good life" and were seen as a place to relax and enjoy simple, delicious food and wine.

Today, you can find Bistros in France and many other countries worldwide. They continue to serve simple, affordable meals and are beloved by locals and tourists alike. 

While the atmosphere and menus of bistros have evolved over time, the spirit of these cozy, welcoming restaurants remains the same.

Bistro vs Restaurant

The difference between a bistro and a restaurant is the atmosphere, style of the cuisine, and the size. Bistros originated in France and are often small, cozy establishments that serve traditional French cuisine. 

On the other hand, restaurants can come in various sizes and styles and serve regional specialties and international cuisine. Bistros tend to be more intimate compared to other restaurants.

What Is the Difference Between a Cafe and a Bistro?

The difference between a cafe and a bistro is the atmosphere. Cafes are more casual, with comfortable seating and a selection of coffee and pastries. Bistros, on the other hand, have a more formal atmosphere with tablecloths and typically serve various French-inspired dishes. The menu at a bistro will often feature a variety of entrees and appetizers, while cafes usually focus on beverages and light snacks. Another difference is that bistros typically offer full-service dining, while cafes are often self-service.


Frequently Asked Questions About Bistro

It's important to understand the difference between a bistro and a restaurant. If you're still wondering about the differences, read the following commonly asked questions.

What Makes a Restaurant a Bistro?

Four characteristics that make a restaurant a bistro include:

  1. Ambiance: A bistro typically has an intimate, cozy atmosphere that makes diners feel welcome and comfortable. It may have dark wood furnishings, decorative restaurant lighting, and casual yet stylish decor.
  2. Menu: Bistros usually serve classic French dishes such as steak frites, moules-frites, and salade niçoise. They may also offer simpler dishes like burgers or sandwiches and a variety of wines.
  3. Service: Bistros are known for their attentive service and friendly staff. Servers often take the time to get to know their guests and offer recommendations.
  4. Pricing: In most cases, bistros are more affordable than fine dining restaurants. This makes them a great option for diners on a budget.

What Food Is Served In a Bistro?

A bistro provides a menu of simple, rustic dishes made from fresh ingredients. Classic French cuisines including croque monsieur, bouillabaisse, and coq au vin, and international comfort foods such as pasta dishes, pizzas, and burgers. 

Bistros offer small plates and appetizers, including cheese platters, charcuterie boards, and dips, as well as fresh salads and soups with seasonal ingredients. Fresh bread and fillings like ham, cheese, and vegetables define the sandwiches and paninis also available. Dessert options tend to include tarts, macarons, and crème brûlée. 

Each bistro focuses on fresh, seasonal ingredients and simple, rustic preparations, though the exact menu may vary.

Is Bistro Formal Or Informal?

Bistros are generally considered to be informal dining establishments. While some bistros may have a more upscale atmosphere and menu, the overall vibe is relaxed and comfortable.

Many bistros offer a casual atmosphere where guests enjoy good food at reasonable prices. Fine dining restaurants generally require more formal attire such as suits or dresses whereas a bistro tends to require more relaxed attire. This means guests are welcome to wear whatever they're comfortable in.

Are you looking to start your own Bistro? Set yourself up for success with Revolution Ordering. Book a demo today and see how Revolution Ordering can help take your bistro to the next level.
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