According to NPR, coffee beans were roasted for the first time in the 1400s. Over the next two hundred or so years, the drink would spread throughout Arabic and European societies.
Coffee has been creating opportunities to gather and share ideas for hundreds of years. When we think of coffee, we often think of cafes and coffee shops full of readers, thinkers, and chatters.
This brings us to the great cafe vs. coffee shop debate. What’s the difference and how do you know when to use each term?
Read on to find out more about the distinction between the two and what to call your new coffee-brewing establishment!
The Cafe vs. Coffee Shop Debate
The confusion surrounding these two terms stems from the fact that, at least in America, we tend to use them interchangeably. Two different people might use the term “cafe” or “coffee shop” to describe the same place. However, there is a difference and if you’re considering opening your own coffee business, it’s worth delving into.
Definitions and Connotations
In French, the word “café” refers to both coffee, itself, and to a shop in which coffee and other refreshments are served. When French people use the word “café,” they are referring to a small establishment that sells an assortment of coffee drinks as well as pastries and other light foods.
In America, however, the word “cafe” has a certain connotation that seems to differ slightly from the French definition. Perhaps because the word comes from the French language, we often think of cafes as nicer, more pretentious establishments than coffee shops.
This is vague, we know, so let’s break down the two terms into more tangible differences.
Cafe vs. Coffee Shop: The Menu
A cafe’s menu will include an assortment of coffee drinks but the star of the show is the food. You might venture to a cafe for brunch on a Sunday afternoon and order an omelet or intricately prepared sandwich. The food is made to order, which means that customers can deviate slightly from the menu based on allergies or preferences.
A coffee shop, on the other hand, will emphasize the drink menu over the food menu. There is usually a variety of drinks ranging from specialty lattes to herbal teas and even smoothies. The food is often limited and simple, prepared in advance, and displayed at the counter.
In other words, a cafe bears more similarities to a restaurant than a coffee shop does. That being said, not everyone agrees on this distinction. There are some folks who will refer to a diner as a “coffee shop.” However, we’re basing our definitions on the predominant use of the terms!
Cafe vs. Coffee Shop: The Environment
Because cafes tend to focus on food, they often provide more seating that encourages a longer stay. People often go in groups which means that it may be on the louder side but not to the extent that the noise disrupts the pleasant, classy environment.
In a cafe, you will find a mix of free-standing tables and booths. Patrons may order their food and drinks at the counter, although table service is not uncommon.
Coffee shops are more casual spaces. There are certainly no restrictions on conversing but you’ll often find patrons who are visiting alone equipped with their laptops, a book, or some paperwork.
Many coffee shops offer mixed seating. They may have an area designated to stand-alone tables for groups or patrons who need space to work. They may also have areas filled with cozy lounge chairs, couches, or loveseats.
Both spaces may offer live entertainment although the purpose of this entertainment differs. In a cafe, you might find a pianist or jazz trio that adds to the ambiance but does not detract from the patrons’ ability to chat. Coffee shops may host open mic nights, allowing local musicians or poets to perform for a captivated audience.
Both cafes and coffee shops encourage guests to sit down and stay awhile. However, while you might walk into a coffee shop and order coffee to go, you probably wouldn’t do this at a cafe. Alternatively, if you were looking for somewhere to sit and work for several hours, you would feel more comfortable at a coffee shop than a cafe!
Establishing Your Own Cafe vs. Coffee Shop
How do you decide whether or not your new coffee business should be a cafe or a coffee shop? Think about the menu you want to provide and the environment you want to create!
It may be a good idea to dig into what your community is missing. What doesn’t exist already, a place to sit down and eat a made-to-order meal with your coffee or a place to try out dozens of specialty drinks while finishing up some homework?
You should also consider the size of your space, the size of the staff you intend to hire, and whether or not you want to use your business to showcase local artists.
For a more in-depth look at establishing your own coffee business, check out this article from ictcoffee.com.
For the Love of Coffee
Though the cafe vs. coffee shop debate is ongoing, there is one thing both places have in common: a love of coffee! If you feel passionate about coffee, the rest will come naturally.
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