We're on holiday in France, where many restaurants are seen having a terrace (an outside seating area). Given many restaurants, at least all over smaller towns in Bretagne, close between like 14:00 and 17:00, you might be rejected when you ask to be seated between 13:00 and 14:00, as the kitchen is already closing up.

Understandable so far, but when closure is obviously not the case, why won't a restaurant with a half empty terrace accept you for just drinks?

It's either food and drinks (sometimes they even require three courses or you're not welcome) or nothing at all. Waiters will even act offended when you tell them you're there for just drinks or a coffee: "We're not a bar!", they'll say.

I understand that, it says so right there on the façade, but I can buy a postcard at the book shop without buying a book. The restaurant has a bar, and it's making coffee for other guests, so they're perfectly able to.

Additional details to clarify:

  • We have explicitly mentioned we wanted to drink coffee, so non-alcoholic.
  • It happened around 30-60 minutes before the posted closing time (say 13:15 when the restaurant closed at 14:00).
  • There were other people eating or being served food, and there were drinks (including coffee) being served.
  • In one instance the waitress sat us down and started setting the table, but when we mentioned that we just wanted to drink a coffee, she started removing the glasses and the cutlery again and sent us away, stating they were "not a bar".
  • There was plenty of room on the terrace as well as inside the restaurants.
  • I'm not taking about "high-end" restaurants, i.e. they don't have a dress code, they serve non-fancy food, they have folding chairs and paper placemats, their waiters don't wear suits.
  • It happened on multiple occasions, either when sitting down by ourselves (no waiter in sight) or when asking a waiter.

So my question is: what's the reason for this strict distinction between restaurants and bars? I have not seen this in any other place, having been all over Europe.

I'm used to any food and/or drinks serving place, having a terrace with empty seats, happily serving you a drink in exchange for your money.

  • 2
    I bet that this is all about taxes and regulations about serving alcohol.
    – mouviciel
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 11:43
  • 1
    Maybe the waiter wants to rest
    – eckes
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 10:37
  • 4
    @Xi'anнівійні This article has been abrogated by Ordonnance n° 2016-301 of 14 March 2016. Even if you are right, flaunting the law is unlikely to get you in, and I'd note making a scene would likely be considered a legitimate reason to refuse service. Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 12:39
  • 3
    I would bet its about not wanting to occupy a table if your only going to buy coffee. You mention they had plenty of seating but they might not if they let people sit down just for coffee.
    – Jayson
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 21:53
  • 2
    I encountered a similar situation in many places in different countries, unfortunately, mostly in places where space has a high value (I mean big cities). In your case it is weird, coffee is taken after the meal, so unless they already cleaned the coffee maker, I don't see what's unusual in ordering a coffee between 1 and 2 when they don't expect someone to start their lunch any more. My behavior is to usually state clearly what I want on an interrogative tone, like, "Do you still serve coffee?". It's clear, it's polite, if they don't want your money they'll reply politely as well.
    – Vince
    Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 19:00

4 Answers 4


Here's comes an answer from a French (and German) guy ;) In France, you have indeed a separation between "bars" and "restaurants". But you also have things in the middle like a "brasserie" or a "bistrot". At a brasserie or a bistrot you could have only a drink or eat or both. Yeah I know it's complex, but you know eating is really important in France :) This is the reason why we have places where you can ONLY eat (and drink).

Also you have to know that also depends on which region you're visiting in France...In the north or south of France, you might find a lot of "restaurants" which would be OK to serve you only a drink. You just need to ask. If you're in Paris though, you're not facing the nicest people in France ;) As you can guess, I'm not from Paris :D

So basically, if you see written "Restaurant" and want to be sure to have only a drink, walk 50 meters and you should find a bar right next to it ;)

  • I'm going to accept this answer based on my interpretation thereof: in France, a business calling itself a restaurant is usually only for people who want to eat there. That's good to know.
    – CodeCaster
    Commented Jun 4, 2022 at 13:06

I see at least a few possible reasons:

  • To serve alcoholic drinks without a meal, they need a different license (licence III or licence IV, as opposed to a restaurant license). It can become a bit cumbersome to ask or specify in advance about alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks, so they can turn it into a blanket "not just drinks" if they don't have the relevant licence.

  • During meal times, in establishments which act both as restaurants and bars, priority is given to people eating. Depending on the place, they can restrict drinks-only to a few tables or just reject all such requests. 13:00 to 14:00 is a common time for people to eat in many areas, so rejecting people for drinks at that time is really not unexpected.

  • If they do indeed close between meals, they probably don't want people to arrive shortly before the end of service and possibly linger a bit too long.

For places which are really strictly restaurants (i.e. they don't do "limonade", which means serving drinks without food), it would indeed be unusual for them to accept people just for drinks, especially for higher-class places.

  • 16
    @CodeCaster The restaurants may just have made the business decision that serving just drinks is not profitable for them. Note that more revenue does not necessarily translate into more profit for the restaurant.
    – quarague
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 7:10
  • 16
    Also, while there may be free tables now, if they make a habit of letting people sit and just have a drink, that means that tables that could have been filled by diners who will pay for a full mean will instead be taken by people who'll only drop a few euros for a drink. That isn't worth it for the establishment, @CodeCaster.
    – terdon
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 10:12
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 21:19

Because since they are a restaurant they want to cater fully to people who will consume an entire meal (and spend 30 euros per person at least), instead of wasting seats (and valuable server time) on customers who will only buy one or two drinks per person, and thus only earn them around 5 euros per person.

In tourist areas they also want to make sure that their dining customers can do so in a peaceful atmosphere, and not with loud drinkers around them.

Best to look for a café nearby, or worst case a bistrot, tavern or brasserie who will welcome you in any case.

  • 1
    "wasting seats" - sorry, but I find that hard to believe. Most people in France appear to have lunch between 12:00 and 13:00, you'll see very few people arrive after 13:00 for lunch.
    – CodeCaster
    Commented Jun 4, 2022 at 11:16
  • @CodeCaster In tourist areas people will come throughout the day. Besides that, why would they waste a seat that earns them 10 euros, if that seat might earn them 200 euros?
    – Opifex
    Commented Jun 5, 2022 at 12:22
  • There are no seats "wasted" when there are plenty available and the restaurant will be closing soon. I was looking for answers by people familiar with French culture, not answers deducing or speculating.
    – CodeCaster
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 7:51
  • 1
    @CodeCaster People familiar with French culture? If only you knew where I live... I suggest you don't ask questions anymore if you don't want to hear the answers...
    – Opifex
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 12:20

I originally thought it was a licensing or establishment style issue (upscale restaurant vs. bar), but your clarifications make that unlikely.

The only thing I can think of is that for some reason your group didn't seem attractive to several owners/waiters in a row. Too rowdy, too casual, too large (and hence difficult to serve quickly and then throw out in 30 minutes), something or another wasn't right.

Anecdotally, I have experienced less than friendly service by European restaurant owners when I was there with loud, flashy and big Americans (with whom I blend perfectly, I'm not disrespecting here). Some Europeans, including restaurant owners, prefer a more subtle crowd. But you are, as I read, Dutch, so that the American "Nationalcharakter" does not exactly apply here, except perhaps for the physical height... but still, I'd take a step back and look, without bias, at the appearance of your group.

  • 3
    That sounds logical as well, but in this case it just were the (IRL) very timid missus and I. Perhaps they were just intimidated by our height. :P
    – CodeCaster
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 14:16

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