Restaurant types: what's in a name?

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Restaurant types: what's in a name?

Postby Jenise » Sat Nov 02, 2013 12:24 pm

Bob and I were discussing a local restaurant the other day called the Via Birch Bay Bistro & Café, because we'd just driven past it. We have not been to it. A friend who is a lot less fussy than I about food raves about their fish & chips but warns us to tell the kitchen, should we ever go, to have them put our food on a plate instead of that little red plastic basket (ew). (No one else has recommended the food at all--they just make a face when I ask.) That's one thing I know. The other is that by reputation the restaurant is succeeding mostly on the basis of its bar scene for local singles. Nothing about either of the things I know suggests I should go there for a meal, and I haven't.

And there's one other problem: their name. "Via", Italian for 'way' I think, implies Italian food but that's not what they serve. And what's this Bistro AND Café business all about, in my book you may be one or the other but not both. Worse, albeit from a distance, this place is neither. I would call what I know of what they serve just "bar food". Uncomplicated, burger-driven, no chef required, heavily dependent on the deep fryer.

And there ensued a conversation about what the official definitions of café, bistro, and restaurant are. I had to admit that I did not know if there were any official definitions, but in my experience café implies very casual with a modest offering of reasonably priced food and a certain ambience, possibly/maybe mandatorily some outdoor seating in good weather, and in the U.S. anyway, entirely likely not to serve alcohol. Might be open for breakfast. Or even just breakfast and lunch. A bistro, I said, should be reasonably priced, casual French/European food that can be served and consumed in less time than a more formal meal. Would definitely serve alcohol, and would not be open for breakfast. Neither definition suits the restaurant we were talking about. A place that does not understand what these words mean this isn't looking for me to be a customer.

So what's a gastropub he wanted to know. Ah, the gastropub! Most exciting new restaurant type in our lifetime, I posited. Emphasis is on beer plus there's a full bar, and the food is as important as the alcohol. It's highly likely if not expected that a real chef is in the kitchen.

So having gone out on that limb, this morning I read this on The editor of the newly-released Michelin Eating Out in Pubs Guide 2014, Rebecca Burr, is calling for an end to the term "gastropub." The gastropub — AKA a pub that serves slightly fancier fare than a traditional pub — was a trend in the UK a few years back, and the term was later imported to the US. Burr's point is that good food should be considered standard in pubs: she told the Morning Advertiser, "A pub doesn't need a makeover to serve good food, nor does it need to transform itself into a restaurant." Bold words.

Well, heck.

So what's in a name? Does my version of these definitions match yours? Is 'gastropub' useful? Do we need more categorical descriptors?
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Re: Restaurant types: what's in a name?

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Sat Nov 02, 2013 1:24 pm

I understand the terms this way:
"gastropub" is a bar-with-food that makes pretentious/better dishes than is typical for a pub;
"bistro" is a very specific term because it must offer the typical French bistro menu; otherwise it's just a cafe
"cafe" is a very general term for an eatery that is above a diner but not so lofty as a restaurant.

A gastropub may distinguish itself by fancy preps or just fancy ingredients. A bistro cannot distinguish itself, by definition. Cafes are all over the map in terms of what they offer and what the experience is.
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Re: Restaurant types: what's in a name?

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Sat Nov 02, 2013 5:10 pm

I agree with Jeff that "cafe" covers a broad range of places which are more expensive and ambitious than diners but less so than restaurants. Bistros are another step up and generally should serve French food but I see the term as applicable to places serving other European cuisines in the same spirit as French bistros. For instance, there are Italian places in town that (IMO) qualify as bistros. What makes a bistro is very good but relatively uncomplicated food, a pleasant atmosphere (usually white tablecloth), good service, and a good wine list. It also seems to me that a bistro shouldn't get much beyond the $25/entree range.

I think there's a place for the term "gastropub". Pub food is a fairly restrictive category that includes things like sausages, fish and chips, burgers, and sandwiches. This food can be very good, but it's simple and straightforward. A gastropub attempts to go above and beyond basic pub food with more creative dishes while maintaining a pub-style atmosphere.

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Re: Restaurant types: what's in a name?

Postby Thomas » Sat Nov 02, 2013 5:25 pm

Just as an ew factor, I wouldn't go to a "gastropub."

I've seen pizza joints with two or three tables refer to themselves as a cafe.

Generally, Jeff's list seems right.

Now, how to define "restaurant." McDonalds and others of that ilk claim that they are in the restaurant business. Are they?
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