You can get a cup of coffee, possibly with some customizations, in a café. You can get some food in a coffee shop.

However, one of the biggest differences between a coffee shop and a café is the tools behind the counter. Working space in a food establishment is always limited.

The tools available for workers to prepare the food really make the difference.

counter at coffee shop

What’s Available?

If you want a custom iced coffee drink, you’ll probably need to go to a coffee shop because they have the tools to brew, blend and serve your desired drink.

If you want an omelette, you’ll probably need to go to a café because they’ll have a grill.

As a general rule, a café will have a larger footprint. Tools that need a larger footprint may not fit in a coffee shop. A full-service kitchen will need space for tools such as

  • large capacity refrigerators
  • large cooking grills
  • industrial dishwashers

Another consideration is the disposability of your plates and cups. A coffee shop will probably produce your drink in a disposable cup.

If you like to linger over a good cup of coffee in a ceramic cup with a handle, go to a café.

cafe with tables and chairs

Seating Experience

Because coffee shops tend to have a smaller footprint, they need you to move on through quickly. You may find chairs that are not padded and that don’t encourage people to linger.

You may also find tall tables that offer limited seating but space for folks to stand and enjoy their coffee.

A café will serve you while you sit on a cushioned bench in a booth. The chairs in a café will probably be padded and a bit more comfortable.

Do be aware that the chairs in a café may be small; if you need a taller chair with arms, you may need to go to a restaurant with a bar.

As a general rule, the chairs and seating options in a coffee shop will be smaller than at a café. If you want to go and linger with family and friends over a hearty breakfast, a coffee shop will not serve.

For those dining with family, having space to spread out can make a huge difference in your meal enjoyment.

looking into a cafe window

How Much Time Will You Have?

Café owners want you to linger. They will be able to serve you good coffee and may have a few specialty drinks. You will also be able to get food that has been

  • grilled
  • toasted
  • deep fried
  • baked

Generally, a coffee shop can only feed you food items that have been toasted or heated in a convection microwave. These may be good, but cooking options in a coffee shop will be limited.

Your meal selection will likely either be molten when it gets to the table, so eat with care.

If you want a meal with fresh greens or a dessert at the end of your meal, go to a café.

workers behind a counter coffee shop

Cost

Generally, you’ll pay more for your coffee at a coffee shop, but more for your food at a café. That being said, you can get a full meal at a café. If you’re ready for a treat, particularly a breakfast, but funds are tight, go to a café and order a la carte breakfast items with your basic coffee.

A good, basic cup of coffee, two eggs scrambled and a side of toast can be a lovely meal that won’t bust your budget at a café.

If all you want is a specialty coffee, go to a coffee shop.

cafe prices on board

Consistency

There are few nationwide café chains, but there are quite a few nationwide coffee shops. If you love a particular mocha or macchiato and want one like the one you get on the way to work, you can probably find a consistent specialty coffee shop in any decent-sized city in the world.

starbucks coffee shop

Child and Family-Friendly Dining

One of the nicest things about a café is the option to sit at a booth. Families with small children will enjoy the option to corral small children between mom and dad and the wall. Additionally, a café may be a better choice if you want access to child-friendly options, such as

  • games
  • toys
  • coloring
  • a child-friendly menu

Finally, most café dining options include a food server. There is nothing wrong with running to a coffee shop counter to pick up your food and beverages, but if you’re trying to have a relaxing meal with small children, being able to settle into a comfortable seat and stay there may make your dining experience much more relaxing.

A visit to a café in a new city may be a risk; if you’re on vacation, you may be tempted to visit a national coffee shop chain. Your food choices and your options to linger will be limited in a coffee shop.

couple being served in cafe

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