Are you the sort of person who gets hung up over a name? Do the different names and terms of eating establishments confuse you? Well in this blog we attempt to clarify which sort of French dining establishments are called what and the differences between them. In France of course you have restaurants, brasseries, cafes, bistros and salons de tea. Each place is rather different than the other and will serve different types of food and drink in different ways.
A restaurant is somewhere that caters for formal dining, it will offer a large selection of food from a comprehensive menu and have an extensive wine cellar. It is the most expensive way of eating and the décor and service is normally at a very high standard. Some restaurants cater for a particular cuisine such as seafood, or steakhouse, and some serve just one country’s cuisine i.e. Italian, Mexican, French etc.
A French brasserie is a type of restaurant the has the same menu all day, this is occasionally augmented with a plat du Jour. A brasserie usually serves classic French cuisine featuring dishes such as, steak tartare, onion soup, charcuterie, and confit de canard. Brasserie can also mean brewery and the restaurant will most likely serve a selection of good beers as well as wines.
Bistros are informal small restaurants, normally just serving simple local food for a particular neighborhood. Dishes are often cooked home-style using a few ingredients and cooked slowly. Popular bistro dishes are things like, hearty stews and vegetable soups perhaps made from leftovers of other dishes. Normally bistros will be chef owned and small businesses, that are affordable and give great value for money.
A cafe can be a twenty-four-hour affair and is the most common type of place to eat in France. A cafe’s forte is the drink selection it offers which normally includes, coffee, tea, beer and wine. Cafes will open for breakfast and continue serving simple dishes for lunch and dinner. Normally the same dishes are served throughout the day and the menu does not change, dishes could include sandwiches, croques, omelets, salads, baguettes and fast food items. Quite often a cafe will have tables and chairs outside, and in Paris they have heat lamps for the colder parts of the year.
Salon de The
A Salon de the is the most informal dining establishment in France, this type of establishment specializes in drinks more than food, especially tea. Cakes, pastries and sandwiches are available to go with a selection of teas and coffees. Some of these places also provide a small selection light dishes and usually the owner is the cook, waiter and general bottle washer. France is a fairly organized society and especially when it comes to food. The French are a serious foodie nation and like everything in its place, they will quite happily travel for miles for a particular dish or a type of food rather than have inferior somewhere local. That is why they have so many categories of dining establishments, so each place specializes in a particular thing, be it food or drink. It can be confusing to many people such as Americans or English who mainly call eating establishments either restaurants, diners or cafes.
The humble bistro was a Parisienne concept that offered cheap food to lodgers of boarding houses, the dishes would be simple but delicious and this budget type of restaurant flourished. Bistros today can be found all over the world serving not just regional French food but ethnic food from every corner of the globe. America has embraced the bistro phenomena since the 1980’s and the American bistro has formed its own unique identity among the bistros of the world. All bistros hail back to the original small hotel diners in Paris that served simple, rustic, delicious regional French dishes. American cuisine does not have the luxury of long tradition, but certain country type dishes have now made their own on bistro menus around the fifty states of the vast country.
Typical Bistro Food
The original French bistro had a menu that was designed for using up local ingredients or left-over food, it was in essence rural home cooking. French cooks would often take fresh vegetables and leftover pieces of meat to make hearty soups and stews. Classic French bistro food included Coq au Vin, and Moules a la Mariniere, even a piece of freshly baked bread with some local pate and a glass of wine can be classed as French bistro food.
Classic American Bistro Food
Most bistro food is served quickly, but a great many of the dishes take a long time to cook with a few key ingredients. Certain American classics are ideal for this type of cuisine such as clam chowder, 24 hours cooked pork shoulder, shrimp and sausage gumbo, spicy-sweet ribs and beans, chili con carne etc. Other popular American bistro food are steaks, salmon with mash potatoes, braised and slow cooked pot roasts, vegetable stews. Beer is often the most popular accompaniment in an American bistro rather than the traditional wine. But if you think about it, back in France wine was the local and cheap brew so it was wine that was served.
Classic American Bistro Food
The original French bistro was little more than a boarding house basement, with a few rustic tables and assorted odd chairs. Today the American bistro can have any theme under the sun, from retro 20’s style, to ultra-modern and minimalist design. Many American bistros favor classic striped awnings outside to mark the premises as a bistro and to give a slightly European twist. Americans have always loved fast food and that is why the Hot Dog and Burger are so popular, but Bistros have offered something new since their inception. A place where great slow cooked dishes are served quickly, some bistros can turn out a plate of slowly cooked pork shoulder faster than a burger and fries.
This is one of the reasons America has taken to the bistro so well, not only does it serve food quickly but the food being served is classic regional food that is delicious and does not cost a fortune. It literally is a recipe for success, who can refuse home cooked food as good as your mother used to make, laden with top quality ingredients and cooked to perfection.
Running your own business is not an easy thing to particularly do and running a bistro in the catering trade is certainly not a cake walk. In part one of this blog we looked at setting out your business plan and marketing your business. In this blog we learn about looking at your competition and soliciting for help from experts in the business. Plus, also the food that you serve to elevate your business above others.
Never take your eyes off your competition especially the successful ones, before you open your bistro look at the vicinity you have selected, see what types of eateries are there and if any are in direct competition to you.While you are new you will probably not be known in the area, so take the opportunity to visit the competition and see what they are doing right and wrong.
Part of your own due diligence in opening a restaurant is to make sure you take on board as much professional advice as possible. Seek out owners of bistros that are not in your area and talk to them how they run their business. Go to restaurants in your chosen area that are not in your category, they will be happy to give you advice of the local trade and what customers request. Restaurant patrons do change from area to area depending how affluent the area is and where it is located. Know your local area and tailor make your business to serve it, do not think you know better and buck the trend.
Your business plan will give you an indication of how much you should be charging for your food and what type of service you can afford. But this does not mean you have to serve cheap food made with inferior produce? Your menu should be inventive, source your food locally and strike up deals with local suppliers. If a particular dish highlights a particular star product such as a particular cut of meat or a fish caught that day then highlight the fact, and it will justify an increase in price. Patrons will be happy paying for good produce and well-cooked and presented food. There will be a ceiling price that customers will not pay over, but it may take some trial and error to find out what it is. One of the most important factors for any kind of restaurant including bistros is levels of service. Customers do not like waiting if they do not know the reason or are not kept busy. This is where you as the owner must stamp your identity on the bistro, introduce yourself and make your diners feel part of the whole experience.
Perhaps offer them a drink while they wait and explain that each dish is being cooked fresh so that is why there is a delay. As long as they know they have not been forgotten diners are a pretty understanding bunch, with the proviso that the end result is worth waiting for. Running a bistro can be a rewarding experience on so many levels and can also be lucrative if you follow the basics and your business plan. Stick to your plan, avoid waste and look after your customers, and you should not go far wrong.
A small, simple restaurant that serves excellent food quickly is more or less what a bistro consists of, Bistros have come a long way from their earlier roots in Paris and now can be found all over the world serving all manner of ethnic food. Bistro’s popularity is that they serve a small selection of dishes, cooked to perfection and using locally sourced ingredients. The menus are fitted around dishes that are easily prepared but are good value for money and simple.
The Start-Up Period
The Start-Up Period
The statistics for any kind of restaurant are not good with 50% failing in the first three years, compared to any other business the restaurant trade is particularly difficult. You need to do your homework before trying to open up your bistro, know the locality you have chosen and the food scene in the area. A bistro fits into a complicated chain of dining establishments and you have to be certain that there is a niche for your type of food.
Many bistro owners fail by not doing their sums correctly and being underfunded, getting any business off the ground always costs more than you originally think and contingency must be built in at the very start. Make sure you are fully funded before you open your bistro doors.
You have chosen a bistro type of food outlet so make sure you hire experienced bistro staff, especially your chef. There is no point hiring a five-star Michelin chef if he is not in tune with your bistro concept, you will have conflict from day one.
Marketing is critical for a bistro to survive, and it is a minefield as advertising and marketing campaigns are expensive. Have a proper marketing plan to suit your business and the locality, make sure your budget covers it and you build in alterations and changes should it not work. Social media is particularly effective in the catering industry and is relatively cheap, use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get your message across. Encourage feedback and interaction on your pages, word of mouth and recommendations are the best form of advertising in the restaurant trade.
Create Your Road-map How to Succeed
A good sound financial business plan is critical alongside a road-map of how the business is going to pan out. Any business plan will keep you focused and on the right path, review it regularly and tweak it where it is not working.Build in your locality, a bistro is often a localized business and serves a local community, it does not mean you cannot serve patrons from further afield, but base your business plan on local diners, these will be your bread and butter. This means target your marketing and advertising to reflect the near vicinity. Perhaps also let this reflect your menu, give your diners what they want to eat and not what your chef wants to explore creating in the kitchen. Source local ingredients and let the local butcher and greengrocer brag about stocking you.
In part two of this blog of how to run a successful bistro business we look at other ways and means of launching and sustaining a good bistro.
Part two of our travel around Paris to find authentic bistro-style restaurants and great traditional bistro food will take us to even more fantastic restaurants that are part of the New Bistro movement that has been so prominent in the last twenty years in France. The first great bistro we visit takes us to Bertrand Aboyneau’s fantastic restaurant on rue Paul-Bert.
Le Bistrot Paul Bert
Le Bistrot Paul Bert
Le Bistrot Paul Bert was opened in the Bastille area in 1977, with a brief to serve classic and traditional bistro type dishes. This restaurant serves authentic Gallic food at its very best, following classic ways of creating and presenting bistro food. The interior also reflects the theme with cracked floor tiles and faded old adverts on the walls. The food served is seasonal and the changing dishes reflect this, marinated herring, terrine de campagne, veal chops and steak tartare.
A simple bistro hidden in the Latin Quarter of Paris, Christophe is simply decorated with bare wooden tables and walls. People come to Christophe for one thing, and that is the marvelous food. Mine host creates great modern French bistro dishes that are simply delicious with a southern French twist. So the dishes often feature fresh lemons, expect classic southern dishes such as citrus mille-feuille, as well as escargots swimming in Provencale butter, and steak accompanied by pureed potatoes.
A tiny bistro but highly popular, so much so that the owner Gregory Marchand is opening a second to cope with the demand. The chef has had superb experience working with Jamie Oliver in London and Danny Meyer in New York. The small bistro has exposed brick walls with factory-style lighting and the atmosphere is buzzing. With his vast experience around the world, Gregory Marchand uses different influences to create his food but there is no doubting his Gallic credentials. Poached eggs with grilled bacon, cream of mushroom soup is an example of what is served here, all with a distinctly French twist.
In a very bohemian part of Paris in the So-Pi area you can find a delightful friendly neighborhood bistro called Le Pantruche. Franck Baranger and Christian Constant are the two chefs’ behind this culinary oasis that is a testament to great French cooking. Do not expect fancy décor or plush fixtures and fittings, but do expect food of the highest quality. Contemporary French cooking at its very best is served at Le Pantruche, delicate, precise and all containing the best seasonal produce.
Recently on the menu, coddled eggs with creamed baby leeks, free range pork chop, and cod baked with Indian spices on a bed of lemon cabbage. The clever fusion of typical French ingredients and methods of cooking together with influences from around the world make the food at Le Pantruche a delight. These fantastic restaurants are a testament how serious that Parisians are about bringing back the traditions and tastes of true bistro cooking. Great dishes that are based on seasonal and local produce cooked simply and very often slowly. These establishments offer a modern version of affordable bistro food as it once was many years ago in Paris.