Is “Cafe” Short for “Cafeteria”?

It’s reasonable to assume that “cafe” is short for “cafeteria”. But do you actually know that, or are you just assuming it? After all, you don’t want to sound uninformed to those around you.

In this post, we’ll cover just what “cafe” really means.

Is “Cafe” Short for “Cafeteria”?

No, “cafe” is not short for cafeteria. The two words sound similar but originate from different languages and have different meanings. A “cafe” is a type of restaurant that originated from a French word. “Cafeteria” originated from a Spanish word for “coffee shop”.

Is Cafe Short for Cafeteria

It’s important to understand two things. One, many languages have similar roots, and thus have some very similar words. Two, the meaning of words changes over time to better fit modern society. These points are relevant to “cafe” and “cafeteria”.

They sound like related words, but it’s not that simple. They came from different languages and just have similar etymological origins. We’ll talk more about those origins later. For now, let’s focus on the modern meanings.

Today, a “cafe” is a type of restaurant: usually, a small one that sells light food and drinks rather than full course meals. A “cafeteria” is a dining room where customers are served at a counter and pay before they eat.

Consider the following examples:

  • We are going to the school cafeteria to get lunch.
  • There is a cozy cafe on the street corner that serves coffee.

This is all you really need to know about the two words in modern English. But for more details about the exact differences between cafe and cafeteria, continue reading below.


“Cafe” was originally a French word describing a coffee-house. But that original meaning is no longer relevant. Today, a cafe is a small restaurant that serves light food and drinks instead of full-course meals.

  • You can get small sandwiches at my favorite cafe.
  • A cafe is a good choice if you’re a little hungry, but don’t need a full meal.
  • A cafe is just a small restaurant. Otherwise, they’re the same thing.

Ironically, “cafe” came from a foreign word for “coffee-house” just like “cafeteria” did. But despite this, the two words have completely different meanings today. The similarity is just a coincidence.


“Cafeteria” originated from an American-Spanish word that meant “coffee-house”. This is almost identical to the original French meaning of “cafe”. But this is just a coincidence. Many languages have similar roots.

Today, “cafeteria” has a very specific meaning. It is a restaurant or dining room where customers are served their food (or get it themselves) from a counter, and they pay for the food before eating.

  • Almost every school has a cafeteria where the students eat lunch.
  • There is a cafeteria in the hospital that serves average food.
  • The soldiers can eat for free in the base cafeteria.

This setup is most commonly found in schools, hospitals, military bases, and the like. Today, “cafeteria” is not used to describe restaurants. Almost no American would do that.

What’s the British Word for Cafeteria?

The British rarely, if ever, use the word cafeteria. They have a different word that means the same thing. That word is “canteen”. A canteen serves the same function as a cafeteria as is practically synonymous with it.

It’s a place where customers get their food from a counter and must pay for it before eating it, so it’s exactly the same as a cafeteria.


Cafe and cafeteria sound very similar, and cafeteria even has “cafe” in it. However, cafe is not short for cafeteria. The words come from different languages and just have etymological similarities.

A cafe is a small restaurant that serves light food and drinks instead of full-course meals.

A cafeteria is a dining room. Customers are served at a counter, and must pay for their food before eating it.

As you can see, cafe means something completely different from cafeteria. The words are similar but it is merely a coincidence.