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If 饭店 is a more formal restaurant than 饭馆, where would you situate 餐馆? More like an eatery, more low-key than 饭馆 or more formal than 饭店? Are there other differences in meaning between the three words?

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  • I think they do not have real difference, only 饭店 might mean hotel, especially star-rated hotel Jul 26, 2022 at 1:41
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    @iBug while you probably won't ask 饭店 if you want to ask for a hotel, there are many hotels (mainly historical high-end ones) that bear 饭店 or 大饭店 in their names. I wouldn't say 饭店 means a hotel, but 大饭店 does imply provision of additional services other than dining.
    – xngtng
    Jul 26, 2022 at 22:38
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    Historically perhaps 饭店 might have included, but not necessarily meaning, the provision of accommodation facilities as it made business sense to provide sleeping facilities as well to your travel weary customers after their meals at a distant past when dedicated hotels were a rarity. But I don't think anyone starting a hotel now would call it XXX 饭店 though most good hotels also have restaurants attached. Maybe Taiwan is an exception? Jul 27, 2022 at 12:33
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    @iBug Come if it is convenient for you to Nanning in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, you will find in the downtown two locally famous hotels that started business in late 1960s, one is named 南宁饭店, the other 邕江饭店. Jul 29, 2022 at 2:39
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    @iBug There are still 桂林榕湖饭店,桂湖饭店,锦江饭店,和平饭店,金陵饭店,西园饭店 and so on around the country (China), all of them having long history. New hotels do not like to use 饭店 but turn to 酒店, but essentially they are the same. Jul 29, 2022 at 2:50

3 Answers 3

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There is no "Official" Classification as one might expect as, like any socio-cutural Centri activity, it is subject to the fashions of the day and Times.

However, there is some informal consensus, though no one opinion is carved in stone.

Lets take the Western classification first, as there is some general consensus on what is what, and why, and feel free to dispute what I have to say below.

  1. Restaurant == a very general term to mean a business establishment where meals or refreshments may be purchased; not much help here as it is too general a term to pigeon hole it.

  2. Fine dining restaurants == called white-tablecloth restaurants, serving expensive cuisines.

  3. Bistro == a restaurant, serving moderately priced simple meals in a modest setting.

  4. Brasserie == a type of French restaurant with a relaxed setting.

  5. Osteria == a place serving wine and simple food.

  6. Cafeteria == a restaurant in which customers serve themselves from a counter and pay before eating.

Now, where do 饭馆, 餐馆, 饭店 fit into all these, or there is no correlative comparison at all?

My personal view is, rightly or mistakenly:-

All three could be called "restaurants", but if one wants to do an academic classification, then:-

饭馆 & 饭店 could both be informal establishments, and so more like 3,4,5, above.

餐馆, like "餐厅", could fall into 2 above.

I don't think traditionally there is such a thing as "Cafeteria" in Chinese victual history where coffee is the main attraction, though there were Tea Houses, (茶馆, 茶楼, 茶亭, depending on where in China they are found), which of course falls outside of our present discussion.

Finally, 饭店 has sometimes taken to mean a hotel, though a more accurate term is 酒店, which is a strange term in itself and deserves more research.

And 路邊攤, (as @r13 said), are "hawkers" or "street vendors", which to the pathetic poor, may very well be their "restaurants"

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  • To this and other native speakers of Chinese: please note that "pathetic" does not mean 可怜 (which I trust is what's meant here), but 泄气 or some other very disparaging synonym of it.
    – Sanchuan
    Jul 26, 2022 at 8:58
  • I actually checked the definition first before using it here as I am aware of the various senses of the word, and therefore used "pathetic" here in the sense of "pitiful", which is one of the definition as in "deserving or inciting pity", and not the other "disparaging" sense of "Inspiring mixed contempt" Your observation is appreciated. Jul 26, 2022 at 10:25
  • Anytime! Let me also add, by way of explanation, that not only is the pitiful/pitiable sense of the word rather obsolete these days, but that any other synonym, however positive, would come off as judgmental or condescending in that context. It wasn't the case 100 years ago (when you could speak of "the wretched poor"), but standards of politeness in language do change. Nowadays, unless condescension is expressly intended, compassionate adjectives are avoided in everyday professional English, especially in attributive position.
    – Sanchuan
    Jul 26, 2022 at 12:25
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    I have no idea if it is a consensus or not. Personally I would not expect 饭馆 or 餐馆 to have large rooms or ability to hold events (e.g. weddings). If a restaurant has 饭店 in its name, I would expect them to have event-holding capacity (but it won't surprise me if they don't; I still use 饭店 to refer to any nonspecific restaurants of any kind).
    – xngtng
    Jul 26, 2022 at 22:43
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    I cannot speak authoritatively for Taiwan with regards to 饭店 being used for hotel, but my personal impression is that elsewhere outside of China or HK, where sizeable Chinese populations are found, like Singapore, Malaysia, it is 酒店, perhaps owing to different liquor licensing regime in different countries, like maybe liquor licenses were normally given to hotels in the old days and not run-of-the-mill restaurants serving ordinary "饭菜", as fast foods places presently do not have licenses for selling liquor. Because of the Chinese diaspora, the usage of the language is bound to evolve. Jul 27, 2022 at 11:47
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餐馆 and 饭馆 sounds colloquial. We often say 街角有一家餐馆/饭馆(there is a restaurant on the corner), but 餐馆/饭馆 are rarely used as the restaurant name(王记小吃部, 王记酒楼, 王记酒家, 王记饭店, but not 王记餐馆).

饭店 maybe a common restaurant, or a large, star-rated hotel which provids accommodation and entertainment services.

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    These three names are more young. In ancient China there are 楼/轩/肆/坊 and more different names for large or small restaurant. Many names are franchise, for example in Song Dynasty, they have 正店 and 脚店, 正店 is fine expensive restaurant with special license, 脚店 is price friendly snacks and provides takeaway service.
    – Krahmal
    Jul 26, 2022 at 6:05
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You can equate 餐馆 and 饭馆, for both are less luxurious than 饭店 but much more gracious than 路邊攤 :)

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