Confusion about types of French restaurants
Bistrot. Crêperie. Salon de Thé. Restaurant.
The list goes on.
Frankly, it can be confusing in France when you are hungry and have no idea what the difference is between the types of restaurants.
Where to eat to experience a typical French meal
One of the most common questions I am asked is:
“Where can we eat to experience a typical French meal?”.
As you will read below, a ‘typical’ French meal covers a broad range of eating establishments and types of food!
My (very) simple guide to the different types of French restaurants and eateries:
Auberge (also auberge de campagne; auberge du terroir): Usually attached to a rural B&B or hotel and serves traditional regional food with local ingredients. Generally courses are served ‘table d’hôte’ with limited options.
Bar: Self-explanatory. It’s all about the drinks, and rarely serving full meals.
‘Bar à vins’ is a wine bar (sometimes serving food for lunch or dinner).
‘Bar à huîtres’ is an oyster bar.
Notably, my first drinks order in beginner French was for ‘une grande poisson’ (a large fish) instead of ‘une grande pression’ (a large draught beer).
Bistro: Serves moderately priced light meals. Often has tables on the footpath.
Boucherie: A butcher. They sell and prepare fresh meats such as poultry, steak, lamb
Boulangerie: A bakery. They usually sell baguettes, croissants and a small range of sweet goods.
Brasserie: The closest thing to a pub restaurant. Serves full meals, coffee and drinks usually from morning until late at night.
Buvette: Also known as a ‘buffet’ or ‘snack’, they sell pizza by-the-slice, paninis, baguette sandwiches and drinks.
Café (Cafétéria): Very confusing as a ‘café’ is a coffee in French….they obviously serve coffee, but also serve basic snacks such as toasted sandwiches.
A ‘cafétéria’ is a self-serve restaurant where you see the food and choose it before ordering. ‘Flunch’ is a major cafétéria chain.
Charcuterie: Similar to a butcher (boucherie) but selling cured meats (sausages, ham etc) and other deli-type goods such as pâte and marinated vegetables.
Chocolatier: A shop that’s hard to resist when you walk past, they sell confectionary made from chocolate. If you buy a chocolate gift for a French person, buy it from a chocolatier instead of a supermarket as they are expert artisans.
Confiserie: A candy shop.
Crêperies: You are certain to encounter a crêperie serving crêpes (thin pancakes, sweet and made with wheat flour) and galettes (savoury and made with buckwheat flour).
Popular toppings in France include Nutella, citron/sucre (lemon and sugar), and Grand Marnier.
Fromagerie: A cheese shop.
Pâtisserie: A type of cake shop specialising in sweets and tarts (they don’t sell bread) such as meringues, fruit tarts and macarons.
Relais Routier: A highway café or truckstop serving quick meals.
Restaurants: All restaurant hours are posted on the front doors. Most restaurants always offer at least one fixed-price set menu (formule, or menu â prix fixe) which generally costs much less than ordering ‘a la carte’ (individually off the menu) but will have limited options.
Drinks including wine, bottled water and coffee are always additional cost unless it says ‘boisson comprise’ and they will tell you what drink is included (e.g. a beer).
It is perfectly acceptable to ask for tap water for the table instead of purchasing still or sparkling water.
Salon de Thé: Serves a range of teas, and usually offers cakes, quiches and tarts.
Traiteur: The closest thing to a delicatessen. They offer catering and ready-meals, and deli-type goods such as marinated olives, tapenades, seafood and salads.
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