Sometimes people ask us what Sip is. That’s understandable. Think about how many different restaurants are out there — countless choices, and that’s going by just the menus. All those different kinds of cuisine. Then there are the serving styles. And the decor. And sometimes a theme.
So when we get a call from somebody looking for a new eating place to try and they ask “What is Sip?,” our first answer is, “We’re a local cafe.” And we know, when we say it, it’s not much help, because there are all those kinds of restaurants out there.
Even the restaurant industry doesn’t always agree on how many kinds there are. We consulted the section titled “Restaurant management” on the WebstaurantStore, and it identifies no fewer than 11 types of U.S. restaurants. We learned a few things, disagreed with others, but we thought they were interesting and thought you might, too. Here they are, and some of the general attributes the folks at WS think define each one.
- Fine dining — special occasions, formal dress code, fine dining etiquette, high-end decor, formal atmosphere, more attentive staff, may feature exotic or interesting dishes and ingredients. $$$-$$$$
- Casual dining — moderately-priced menus, table service, low-key atmosphere, unique decor. $$
- Contemporary casual — modern and trendy, distinct brand, may be eco-friendly with healthy food options, fusion cuisine, usually with table service, emphasis on visuals. $$-$$$
- Family style — shareable platter option, table service (but guests pass dishes and serve themselves), may be casual atmosphere or upscale. $$-$$$$
- Fast casual — healthier than fast food but still affordable, counter service, contemporary environment and decor. $-$$
- Fast food — focus on quick service, counter service or drive-through, usually a chain, standardized meals of processed food, casual ambiance, disposable containers. $
- Cafe — coffee, tea, pastries, small items for breakfast and lunch, casual relaxed atmosphere, people work or socialize for periods of time. $-$$
- Buffet — “All You Can Eat,” guests serve themselves, modest to extensive selection, single or multiple cuisines, casual elegant decor. $$
- Food trucks and concession stands — various forms, usually outdoors, small menu of singular food type that is partially or fully pre-made. $-$$
- Pop-up restaurant — operates temporarily, various enclosures and spaces, creative and contemporary concept with various levels and types of service, dependent on social media. $$-$$$
- Ghost restaurant — aka virtual restaurants, delivery-only, partner with third-party delivery services, no brick-and-mortar location, range of food types, strong website and social media presence. $$
We’re guessing you could name several places you’ve been in each category. We can too. What we can’t do is pick one category Sip neatly fits into. (Another category we’ve seen is “cafe bar,” and that’s a little closer to us.)
But what the list did for us, other than prompt a fun conversation after closing, is get us started trying to say what we are, rather than what we aren’t. And the reason the list doesn’t do that for us is because these are the 11 restaurant types you find in America.
Is a cafe bar un-American?
Don’t misunderstand: We’re not saying Sip set out to offer some kind of exotic drinking-and-dining concept you could otherwise find only on a distant shore. We like to think our menus — both dining and drinking — are eclectic and entertaining. Pretty much anything you’re in the mood for, you’ll find something there that hits the spot. Some of it’s familiar, and some of it is stuff we just dreamed up and people said, “Hey! I like that!” and it stayed.
In our after-hours conversation we agreed that maybe as the American restaurant industry grew, they were so caught up in trying inventive things and coming up with shiny new concepts that set them apart, they left behind exactly what we set out to be: the local cafe.
Now, we know “cafe” is on that list of 11. But this concept of “cafe” is more. It’s part of what the great travel writer, Rick Steves, calls Europe’s cafe scene: “… a place for people to gather socially and spend hours catching up and discussing everything from politics to sports.”
Steves says there are things about cafes that differ from country to country. In Italy, they’re called “bars.” In France, where they’ve been second homes to famous artists, writers and political figures (including revolutionaries), and they serve light meals throughout the day, unlike the restaurants. Viennese-style coffeehouses are common in most European nations, but (like Sip) they’re more than just coffeehouses.
What do they all have in common? Time. They’re places that make you want to hang around, for the good food, good drinks, good people.
But “local cafe” doesn’t say all that
When that person calls to ask, “What kind of place is Sip?” and we tell them “a local cafe,” we’re pretty sure they don’t hang up thinking of a table on Siena’s Piazza del Campo, or looking across the room and seeing some movie star or a fashion model whose Vespa is parked on the curb. We’re pretty sure they’re thinking “diner.”
Don’t get us wrong: We love a good diner, too. But Sip ain’t that. Why? Aside from our aforementioned eclectic menu, you also have to factor in our main ingredient: time. Diners don’t make you want to hang out.
No, you don’t absolutely have to hang out at either of our cafe bars — Scottsdale has the Coffee and Beer House; Arcadia, the Coffee and Beer Garage — to enjoy Sip. We have items that you can order and finish in a few minutes if you want, or even take with you and go. (BTW, that doesn’t make us “Fast Casual” or … shudder … “Fast Food.”)
But we set out to make Sip the place where you know you’ll find food and drink and people you like, and when you get here, you want to stay awhile.
If Sip isn’t your local cafe yet, come in and plan to stay for a bit. We bet you’ll stay even longer.