What, Exactly, Is A Lounge In The Restaurant Industry?

Though eating out is a normal part of life for many folks, it can still occasionally be shrouded in mystery. One of the most commonplace puzzles is the intersection of restaurants and lounges. These can be treated differently depending on the type of establishment, but a lounge is often a fixture of a high-end restaurant. It can also be a stand-alone entity meant to promote a casual, even club-like vibe. Often, if a restaurant's dining room is booked up, you may be redirected to the lounge area, which might even require a cover fee to enter (though it's likely far more comfortable than a typical lobby). But what actually sets a lounge apart from a regular restaurant dining area?

Lounges are distinct in both their setup and food offerings. Most have direct access to a bar and offer a range of casual seating options, such as coffee or cocktail tables instead of formal dining furniture. They can be a great place to direct guests who arrive early for their reservation, as this keeps them from seeking out a pre-dinner drink at a separate establishment. Stand-alone lounges are also great places to host live entertainment and dancing, sort of like a hybrid between a bistro and a club — these are the locations that typically require a cover fee. If you do find yourself redirected to a restaurant lounge, you can still expect to find at least some grub and drinks.

What to expect from lounge menus

A restaurant's regular dinner menu isn't generally served in the lounge, though it doesn't hurt to ask if they can make an exception for dining at the bar. Instead, the lounge likely offers a limited food menu. This will typically consist of small plates, appetizers, and occasionally some entrées. It may seem odd not to serve the full menu since the lounge and restaurant likely share a kitchen, but there are a few reasons to keep this menu small. For one, the furniture in a lounge isn't conducive to a sit-down dinner — after all, who wants to hover over a low-to-the-ground coffee table to enjoy a decadent lobster thermidor?

That doesn't mean you can't get good food at lounges, though. Look for a restaurant-lounge combo that specializes in small, shared plates so you can get a light, high-quality meal and enjoy the restaurant's atmosphere. Depending on the location, some lounges will offer table service, while others ask that you order at the bar. In general, though, you can think of lounges as high-end cocktail bars — a place to buy a drink, socialize, and maybe even enjoy some entertainment.