Garden Furniture

What Is a Bistro Set?

Bistro Table

The bistro has humble beginnings on the streets of France but today its popularity is evident worldwide as a common feature of our gardens and high streets. Bistro tables and dining sets remain one of the easiest ways to bring a touch of Parisian style to your home or garden. Read up on the story of the Bistro and get some ideas to inspire your outdoor space below.

What makes a bistro table set?

Today there are many styles of bistro sets available. They range from the classic decorative metal sets to the more contemporary styles in wooden or rattan. But what makes the bistro style unique? The design stems from its origins on narrow Parisian streets.

Today we often see Bistro sets spilling onto pavements outside restaurants or cafes with people enjoying an alfresco meal or a coffee. The original tables were designed to be small enough for just two people to comfortably share whilst allowing plenty of space for people to pass by on the pavement.

Some common traits are found in the materials of Bistro tables with the original designs having marble tops and metal legs. The onset of the industrial revolution meant the faster production of iron which made it much easier to add decorative legs. Both table and chair design evolved further to be folded away for easy storage; this was ideal as it meant larger restaurants could seat more people, filling their outside spaces as much as possible.

The popularity of bistro’s through history meant that copies of designs sprung up everywhere once their success began to show. It’s hard to trace an “original” design but we can recognise them by these basic features.

History of Bistro

So how did bistro restaurants begin? The original bistros developed in the apartment basements of Paris. Landlords would open up their kitchens as a secondary source of income, selling cheap and hearty foods to the paying public.

The social aspect of bistros meant that places like the Cafe Procope in Paris (which still operates today) became integral meeting points for the artistic and literary figures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Imagine Rousseau thinking on his social contract or Diderot compiling his Encyclopédie.

Often these set-ups would be organised outside buildings in the streets, facilitating the need for a smaller style of dining set to allow people to still pass by. This close proximity with the street made bistro’s synonymous with “people watching” as you couldn’t help but notice the rush of city life as it all passed by your table!

We’re not completely certain of where the word bistro comes from, but there are some stories which offer possible explanations. The most popular idea is that the word originated during the 1815 Russian Occupation of Paris, where Russian cossacks would cry “Bystra! Bystra!” to the restaurateurs. This roughly translates as “Hurry! Hurry!” which fits in with the developing style of the bistro as serving “fast food”. Whether this is true or not, we do know that the word Bistro entered both the French and Russian languages with the same meaning.

Another explanation is that the word originates from the French term “Bistreau” which translates as an innkeeper – more believable maybe, but certainly less romantic than Russian Cossacks in a hurry for their lunch.

What’s for Lunch?

Historically the food served at bistros reflected what was available locally or left over from landlords after serving their primary tenants. Menus were often made up with simple foods like soups, sandwiches, salads and crepes, served alongside coffee and wine and would likely change day to day depending on availability of ingredients.

Bistro Table With Coffee

This focus on food that’s simple, fast and relatively cheap has continued to the present day, though perhaps with a gentrified twist and a price tag to match in some chain stores…

How can I use a bistro set in my garden?

A bistro set is perfect for creating a dining space within a smaller section of your garden. If your outdoor space is a patio or balcony then these sets are ideal for adding a touch of style whilst saving on important floor space. Fold away chairs are perfect for dining on your own whilst having that extra seat available for guests and you can create a cosy space for yourself that’s perfect for morning breakfasts. What could be better than warm coffee and breakfast on the balcony, Parisian style.

Why not use a bistro set as an excuse to partition off a part of your garden and create a cosy dining area? To recreate that feeling of on-the-street closeness with life you could add interest around your table set. Perhaps a series of potted plants to add interest at differing heights? Or maybe position your set near some bird feeders so you can dine with the sound of birds singing each day and enjoy being closer to the wildlife in your garden. Maybe add some candles to the table and you’ve got a pleasant spot to spend a summer evening dining out or wrapped up with a good book.

From the streets of sixteenth-century Paris to your own back garden – a bistro set offers the perfect spot for hearty food and a good cup of coffee. With a style that’s made its way around the world bistro sets are an easy way to add a little Parisian style to your outdoor space.

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