What is the difference between Coffee Shop and Cafe?

Like most people, you’ve probably heard the terms “cafe” and “coffee shop” used interchangeably when describing a place that sells coffee. In fact, if you walked into one of these places, would you even be able to tell if it was a cafe or a coffee shop based on the atmosphere, what was being sold or who worked there? Probably not.

As often as these words are used, it’s incredibly hard to tell what might separate a coffee shop from a cafe. The truth is, all of these points bring up one major question that needs to be addressed: Is there a difference between a “cafe” and a “coffee shop”, and if so, what is it?

What these places sell

Although “coffee shop” is labeled as a synonym for “cafe” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, there is somewhat of a difference between these words and a lot of it has to do with what they sell.

A coffee shop, like its name, will primarily focus on selling coffee and even different types of it while that little local cafe up the street may split its focus between both coffee and food. Officially, a cafe could even be called a restaurant while a coffee shop would probably not fall under that same category.

Still, there’s no definitive rule book that enforces these standards and it would be entirely possible to find a cafe that sold primarily coffee and a coffee shop that made food as well.

Some larger chains that sell coffee may even choose not to use either of these words as descriptions in order to avoid people making assumptions about what kind of things they sell or don’t sell.

The connotations of the words: Cafe and Coffee Shop

One of the biggest differences between these two words is their connotations and how people may interpret them.

For instance, the word “café” translates from French as “coffee” or “coffee house”, but instead of translating it into English, many business owners choose to leave it in its original French form because it sounds classier.

Even just hearing it does leave the impression that the place you’re about to walk into is a little more sophisticated and stylised. In this same way, a shop owner who is looking to make their local coffee shop appear a little fancier might refer to it as a local cafe instead.

Unlike “café”, the term “coffee shop” does not have the same kind of connotation attached to it. A lot of it really comes down to the kind of atmosphere the owner of that particular place is trying to create.

A local cafe owner might spend more money and resources on trying to create a pleasant and eye-catching atmosphere while a coffee shop owner might not.

Overall, it’s important to remember that there’s no specific definition as to what a cafe and a coffee shop are, or what they should be.

Everything that makes them different is subjective and relies more on a business owner’s personal choices than anything else. And, really – does it matter?

At the end of the day, if a local cafe serves fantastic coffee hopefully as fantastic as the coffee at the Red Shed, is in a great location like Mooloolaba with terrific service, what does it matter how it’s labeled. Café, Coffee shop or an espresso bar?