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A café ( or ), also spelled cafe, is an informal restaurant offering a range of hot meals and made-to-order sandwiches. This differs from a coffee house, which is a limited-menu establishment which focuses on coffee sales. Depending on the jurisdiction, a café may be licensed to serve alcohol. The term can also refer to bistro or a restaurant facility within a hotel. In many countries, however, the term "café" denotes roughly what "coffee house" denotes in English speaking countries (see below). In American cafés the serving of coffee is incidental to the serving of food, and they may or may not serve alcoholic beverages. In small towns, the local café is often the central gathering spot for conversation and meetings. Such cafés are especially popular for breakfasts. In central business districts (CBD) of larger cities cafés and coffee shops are often open only for breakfast and lunch, since their patrons leave the area after business hours.

A "café" can also refer to a small informal public discussion. These are usually live events, and often focus on starting an open conversation on a particular topic. Examples include science cafes in the US [30191], Café Scientifique in the UK [30192], and Café Society in Chicago [30193].

In Europe

In European countries such as Austriamarker, Francemarker, Denmarkmarker, Germanymarker, Swedenmarker, Portugalmarker, etc., the term café implies primarily serving coffee, typically complemented by a slice of cake/tart/pie, a "danish pastry", a plain bun, or similar sweet pastry on the side. Many (or most) cafés also serve small meals such as sandwiches. European cafés often have an enclosed or outdoor section extending onto the sidewalk. Some cafés also serves alcoholic beverages.

In France, and some other countries, a brasserie is a "café" (in the American sense of the word) that serves meals, generally single dishes, in a more relaxed setting than a restaurant.

In the Netherlandsmarker and Belgiummarker, a café is a the equivalent of a bar, an establishment selling alcoholic beverages. A coffeeshop, which exist in the former country, is an establishment which sells soft drugs (cannabis and hashish) and is generally not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages.

In the United Kingdommarker and Irelandmarker a café as well as having the meaning similar to other European countries, may also refer to a Greasy spoon style restaurant, where the establishment has a focus on fried or grilled food, in particular breakfast dishes. Paradoxically such an establishment is likely to offer only a single type of often poor-quality instant coffee. These type of establishments are common in working-class neighbourhoods and truck-stops and are popular with maual labourers. In this case, whereas an establishment of this type might well be self-described as a café, it is likely that in practice it will be referred by others as a "Caf", so as to differenciate between this type of restaurant and a european style establishment whose focus is on Coffee and pastries.-

In North America

A café or coffee shop is an informal restaurant with full-service tables and counters, and broad menu offerings over extended periods of the day. In hotels, the coffee shop is a more popular-priced alternative to the formal dining room. Coffee shops often encourage families with special menus for children. To establish a family-friendly atmosphere, in many localities they do not serve wine and beer.

Spelling and pronunciation

The most common spelling café is the French spelling, and was adopted by English-speaking countries in the late 19th century. Café can also be spelled caffè (the Italian spelling). In southern England, especially around Londonmarker in the 1950s, the French pronunciation was often shortened to and informally spelt caff.

A long history of lack of support for accented characters in (first) typewriters and (later) computer OS (which can be explained principally by the fact that these technologies were largely pioneered by people whose native language, English, generally did not require diacritical marks) has guaranteed that the spelling cafe has also become common.

See also


  1. A Café is a coffee-house, a restaurant; strictly a French term, but in the late 19th c. introduced into the English-speaking countries for the name of a class of restaurant. Oxford English Dictionary
  2. A coffee-house; a teashop; an informal restaurant; a bar.; Oxford Essential Dictionary of Foreign Terms in English
  3. Christopher C. Muller and Robert H. Woods. An expanded restaurant typology. Cornell Hotel & Restaurant Administration Quarterly 35.n3 (June 1994): pp27(11).
  4. Bernard Davis, Andrew Lockwood, & Sally Stone. Food and Beverage Management Butterworth-Heinemann, 3rd ed., 1998.
  5. Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition (1989), entry number 50031127 (café)
  6. Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition (1989), entry number 50031130 (caff)

External links

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