What is a Bistro?

September 8, 2023 — Cloudwaitress

Have you ever found yourself wondering, “What is a bistro?” At first glance, it might seem like another eatery on the corner, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

If you’re wondering, “What is a bistro?” it’s a welcoming spot to enjoy food in a laid-back setting. It’s an eatery that serves delicious dishes, often drawing inspiration from the flavours of French cooking. Originating in Paris, bistros have become popular for their relaxed ambiance and affordable prices. They often have a limited menu and seating, creating a cozy dining experience.

Bistros, whose roots in France, boast a past and a unique atmosphere that distinguishes them from dining establishments. In this article, we will explore the essence of bistros and why they have become a favoured option.

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What is a Bistro?

A bistro, a term derived from French, is a small and informal restaurant known for its simple but welcoming environment. Often found in urban neighbourhoods, bistros tend to have a distinct character. They offer a modest setting where people can relish their meals comfortably.

The appeal of a bistro lies mainly in its ambiance. These eateries often feature straightforward, comforting decor, with plain wooden tables and chalkboard menus. Bistros often have an inviting atmosphere that makes guests feel at home. This is why it’s common to come across bistros with open kitchens.

Bistros are also known for their uncomplicated and tasty cuisine, emphasizing quality ingredients and traditional recipes. The menu typically offers various options, from appetizing soups and fresh salads to satisfying courses, like steak frites.

Although the bistro idea first emerged in France, it has now become popular around the globe. Nowadays, it’s common to find bistros that incorporate local flavours and ingredients into their menu.

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Origin and History of Bistros

The word ‘bistro’ is familiar to many of us, but its origins are unclear. One famous story claims it came from the Russian word “bystro,” which means “quickly.”

According to legend, when Russia occupied Paris in 1815, Russian soldiers would shout “bystro!” to get fast service at local cafes. Those cafes might have adopted the term ‘bistro’ as a nod to their speedy service.

However, the reality could be somewhat dissimilar. The word “bistrot” actually appeared in French dictionaries before the Russian occupation, as early as the 19th century.

It’s likely that small, informal restaurants offering simple meals in a welcoming setting already existed in Paris at that time. The precise source of the term remains unknown. It is evident that the idea has connections with French culture.

Early bistros were often family affairs, run out of modest spaces that might have been part of the family’s home. Over time, the bistro concept spread throughout France and beyond.

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What is the Difference Between a Bistro and a Restaurant?

The terms “bistro” and “restaurant” might appear when deciding where to dine out. While wondering what a bistro is, it’s essential to understand the difference. They both serve food but have distinct characteristics that set them apart.

Size and Ambiance

Bistros are typically smaller and offer a more casual and private setting. They are often characterized by simple and cozy decor, such as wooden tables and chalkboard menus. In some cases, they may even feature an open kitchen. In contrast, restaurants vary in size from small to large and can range from casual to upscale in decor.

Menu Offerings

Bistros tend to have a limited, straightforward menu focusing on simple, hearty dishes made with quality ingredients. On the other hand, restaurants typically offer a variety of dishes and cuisines, which tend to be more consistent.

Service Style

Service at bistros is often more relaxed and personable. The atmosphere is typically laid-back, and diners may even get the chance to interact with the chef. In contrast, depending on the establishment, restaurants can offer a broad spectrum of service styles, from casual to formal.


Bistros are known for their excellent quality food at reasonable prices. Their menus might offer a limited selection, but they aim to provide delicious and reasonably priced meals. Conversely, restaurants can cater to prices ranging from budget-friendly options to upscale dining experiences.

Cuisine Style

Bistros often have roots in French cuisine, and their dishes frequently reflect this influence, sometimes with a regional twist. They are well-known for their straightforward, basic fare. Restaurants, by contrast, can offer a vast array of cuisines, from Italian to Thai to Canadian. This depends on the chef’s specialization and the restaurant’s theme.


Bistros are celebrated for their relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. They offer a sense of community and a welcoming environment. In comparison, restaurants can offer a wide variety of atmospheres. This may range from informal and relaxed to formal and sophisticated.

How to Open a Bistro

A bistro can thrive in smaller spaces like shopping centers and neighbourhoods where larger restaurants cannot fit. Here is how you can establish a bistro in your community.

Researching Your Area

Explore the restaurant scene in your neighbourhood. Study both the general restaurant business and the bistro market to understand the current trends and statistics. Evaluate whether your community could benefit from a new bistro and identify the unique needs that yours could meet. You should also think about the theme of your bistro.

Devising a Business Plan

Craft a business plan for your bistro. This plan should clearly describe how it will run, what equipment and furniture you need, and your suppliers.

Create a marketing plan using the facts obtained from your investigation. This should include how you’ll advertise your bistro and strategies to stand out from the competition. There are numerous web resources that might assist you in developing a plan for your bistro.

Choosing an Ideal Location

Find the right spot for your bistro. Pick a place that follows the local rules and zoning laws. Make sure it’s big enough for all your equipment and furniture. However, the space should not be so big that it could be mistaken for a full-sized restaurant. Find a location with many people passing by so more people will notice your bistro.

Setting up Your Bistro

Start by planning the layout of your space. Think about where customers will walk and where servers need to go. Next, pick furniture that matches your bistro’s style and fits your space well. This could include comfy chairs and tables that fit the room.

You’ll need good quality equipment for your kitchen that works well for the dishes on your menu. This might include ovens, fridges, and areas for preparing food. As you set everything up, focus on ensuring everything works well and feels comfortable for customers and staff.

Hiring Staff

When you’re opening your bistro, choosing the right staff is essential. You’ll want to hire people who have worked in restaurants and are friendly to customers. You might need to hire servers, cooks, dishwashers, and someone to welcome guests. After you hire your staff, make sure to train them. They’ll know what to do and how to deliver excellent service this way.


Advertising Your Bistro

Letting people know about your new bistro is vital to getting customers. Start by creating a strong brand that shows what your bistro is about and who it’s for. Make a good website and engage with social media.

Post professional photos of your food and tell people about special deals or events. You can also deliver through your bistro by using bistro online ordering system like CloudWaitress.

Final thoughts on what is a bistro

To fully appreciate the experience a bistro offers, it’s essential to grasp its meaning. Bistros are now a global phenomenon, offering a taste of French culinary traditions in a welcoming setting. Bistros give a distinct dining experience, whether you are opening your own bistro or simply enjoying a meal.

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