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What is a Bistro Restaurant?

What is a bistro, and how are they different from other restaurants? Here is a deep-dive into bistro restaurants, and how to open one yourself.

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This post was last updated on Aug 12, 2021.

DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.

Bistros are known for their warm atmospheres, close ties to their neighborhood and community, and classic, usually French-influenced, food. But what exactly is a bistro? And how are they different from any other restaurant? Here’s some more background on bistros, and how to open up your own neighborhood spot. 

Where does the word bistro originate?

The word “bistro” originates from France and was first recorded in 1884. Though discredited by linguists, a popular theory is that the word “bistro” came from a similar-sounding Russian word, быстрый (pronounced “bystry”), which means “quick” or “hurry”. This theory suggests that when Russian troops occupied Paris in the early 19th century, soldiers used this word to ask for food quickly, and the name stuck. 

Though this is a popular story, historians say it’s more likely the word evolved from regional slang in France in the late 1800s. 

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What makes a restaurant a bistro?

What makes a bistro a bistro? A bistro is defined as a small, casual restaurant with a relatively inexpensive, simple menu. Though often a French restaurant, it doesn’t have to be, and not every bistro serves French food. 

Bistro Vs. Restaurant 

The definition of a bistro is relatively vague – so what is the difference between a bistro and a restaurant? Essentially, not very much. 

A bistro is a type of restaurant and is just further defined as smaller and more casual than a fine dining establishment. Often, a bistro is described as more of a neighborhood restaurant with community ties, and a warm, cozy, inviting atmosphere. 

How to open a bistro

Interested in opening up your own bistro? Here are a few steps to take. 

Step 1: Do market research 

Bistros thrive as neighborhood restaurants. The first step in opening a bistro in your area is to research the best place to open and see what market hole could be filled by your restaurant. See what restaurants are currently operating, what residents are looking for, and what resources might be available to help you. 

Step 2: Write a business plan 

One of the most key steps to any successful business is a thorough business plan. A business plan identifies the “why” and “how” behind your restaurant, outlining your full roadmap and vision. This is where you’ll decide on your concept, figure out your service, staffing, and operating models, plan out finances, your bistro restaurant menu, and so much more. And, this is a great way to sell potential investors on your business. 

Write your business plan here. 

Step 3: You’re off! 

From there, opening a bistro is very similar to opening up any other kind of restaurant. For more information on how to open up a restaurant, and a step-by-step checklist, check out this resource. 


Opening a restaurant is an exciting adventure. Once you’re open, make sure to stay on top of performance, have open communication with guests and staff, and continue to look for opportunities to grow. For more information on running a successful restaurant in today’s competitive environment, click here


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