Difference Between Bar and Restaurant | 4 Facts to Know

Tamia Tutson
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    The ever-expanding business idea of starting a bar and joining the restaurant industry isn't slowing down anytime soon. When you use the right tools and efficient business systems, and craft a comprehensive marketplace business model, you'll find that the answer to, "Is owning a bar profitable?" is yes. 

    However, there are a few key differences you should know before starting your business. Sure, there are stand-alone bars and stand-alone restaurants, but is there a real difference; and what about the notorious restaurant bar setup

    Here, we'll discuss the difference between a bar and a restaurant, some similarities, and how to ensure your success in the industry.

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    What Is a Bar?

    A bar is defined as an establishment that is licensed to serve alcoholic beverages. The specific name is derived after the counter or bar at which drinks are served. The person in charge of running a bar is called a bar manager (see bar manager salary). 

    If you already manage a bar, the definition may seem obvious. However, for someone looking to break into the industry, it can be quite confusing. Why? Because today, "bar" is used as a blanket term for pubs, clubs, and sometimes even restaurants. So, "Hey, want to go to the bar tonight?" could mean you'll end up at any of the above places. 

    Knowingly, it's important that you're able to understand and identify what a bar is, and what type of bar you're looking to operate if you want to attract a specific niche market

    What Food and Drinks Get Served at a Bar?

    When it comes to a bar, there are various types of menus that can be offered.  What your bar serves depends on the type of bar you operate. For instance, a cocktail bar or neighborhood bar might serve drinks only with no food selections.

    On rare occasions, you might find a bar that features a short appetizer list. However, that usually won’tbe the case. 

    On the other hand, a sports bar offers a comprehensive menu filled with finger foods (think wings and pizza) and common entree food that pairs well with a sports game. If a sports bar interests you, don't forget to account for the added food cost. You can do some research to find out how to price your food menu relative to similar bars and respective ambiance.

    What Is the Age Limit and Environment Like at a Bar?

    The age limit for a bar is anywhere between 18 and 21 years old. When looking to hire bartenders, keep in mind that the average bartender age is 21, but each state has different age requirements for bartending.

    Moreover, depending on the bar, some won't allow entry at all for those under the age of 21. When it comes to the typical bar environment, the majority of bars will offer loud music, a dance floor, and little to no wait staff.

    Though, on busy nights, you can expect to see more bar staff than usual. It's also common for customers to bar hop, or continually move from one bar to another. However, clubs and karaoke bars see less frequent bar hopping.

    What Is a Restaurant?

    As opposed to a bar, a restaurant is a public facility that sells food and beverages (that may or may not be alcoholic), to customers. The key difference is that restaurants are designed to sell food, not provide alcohol and entertainment.

    However, this does not mean that a restaurant can't serve alcohol. In fact, a large majority of restaurants offer an alcohol menu. You can expect restaurant menus to feature different types of alcohol such as wine, margaritas, and popular beer brands.

    What Types of Food and Drink get Served at a Restaurant?

    Similar to bars, the type of food you can find at a restaurant will vary depending on the type of restaurant you're at. Restaurants typically fit into five categories: fine dining, casual dining, fast-casual, ghost restaurants, and fast food. 

    Fine Dining

    At a fine dining restaurant, expect to find upscale meals that feature several courses, e.g. salad, appetizer, entree, and dessert

    The purpose of fine dining is to create an atmosphere of elegance and class. As such, you end up paying for both the food and the experience. 

    Casual Dining

    Casual dining is the perfect go-between for fast casual and fine dining. It offers the sit down experience many people like, but it allows for a more relaxed setting.

    At a casual dining restaurant you'll normally find the following:

    • Seated dining
    • Moderately priced food
    • Low-key atmosphere
    • Unique food items

    Think Cheesecake Factory, BJ's, and Olive Garden. Casual dining falls somewhere between fine dining and fast casual. 

    Fast Casual

    Fast casual restaurants offer speed of service while still providing  a quality and filling meal. Expect meals that are healthier than fast food, but more affordable than casual and fine dining. 

    Additionally, fast casual restaurants normally do not have waiters, and instead offer counter service. Some examples of fast casual restaurants include Chipotle, Panera, and Torchy's. 

    Ghost Restaurant

    A ghost restaurant, or ghost kitchen, is a restaurant that serves customers by phone and online orders only. As a virtual restaurant model, there is no traditional storefront (i.e., decor and seating). The only staff in a ghost restaurant are cooks and delivery drivers. 

    Fast Food Restaurant

    Fast food is the most widespread type of restaurant. Customers are attracted to the low prices, convenience, and speed. Most, but not all, fast food restaurants use preheated and frozen food to meet demand. Examples of fast food restaurants include Taco Bell, McDonalds, and Wendy's. 

    What Is the Environment Like at a Restaurant?

    Typically, restaurant environments are  laid back. Although this depends upon what type of restaurant you're at. Fine dining offers a more upscale atmosphere, while fast casual dining is laid back. 

    Sometimes restaurants offer a great middle ground too. If the restaurant you're at has a bar, you might spot a dance floor and outdoor patios that offer a different experience. Good thing is, as a restaurant owner, you can choose the environment you'd like to offer. 

    Finally, restaurants normally do not have age limits. However, if there is a bar you have to be 21 to sit at it. 

    Key Differences Between a Bar and a Restaurant

    Overall, the differences between a and restaurant are rigid. It's fair to say that a restaurant can act as a bar; however, a bar cannot act as a restaurant. 

    Here are some key differences between a bar and a restaurant:

    • Bars have bartenders while restaurants have waiters.
    • At a bar, socializing is encouraged. Whereas at a restaurant you're expected to mingle with those at your own table.
    • Bars don't usually have table seating, while restaurants do.
    • The main purpose of a bar is to serve alcohol, while the main purpose of a restaurant is to serve food. 

    Regardless of whether you're looking to become a restaurant owner, a bar owner, or both, understanding the differences is instrumental to your success. When it comes down to it, understanding these differences can help you  write a business plan and outline potential areas of opportunity. 

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    Frequently Asked Questions About the Difference Between Bar and Restaurant

    What Is the Difference Between Bar and Restaurants?

    A bar is an establishment licensed to serve alcoholic beverages and is named after the counter or bar on which drinks are served. A restaurant is a place where people pay to sit and eat meals that are cooked and served on the premises.

    What Are the Different Types of Restaurants?

    The five main types of restaurants include:

    • Fine Dining
    • Casual
    • Fast Casual
    • Ghost Restaurant
    • Fast Food

    What Are the Different Types of Bars?

    The five main different types of bars include:

    • Clubs
    • Sports Bars
    • Pubs
    • Neighborhood Bars
    • Specialty Bars
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