American Versus Canadian Restaurants

Americans wear their colours more proudly than Canadians

Americans wear their colours more proudly than Canadians

What distinguishes American from Canadian restaurants? That is, besides the lower prices in the former, a lot of the time.

Aside from Canadian, or back, bacon—which you don’t actually see that much in Canadian restaurants—we Canucks don’t have much to offer in distinct regional cuisine. Even with the one solid entry of poutine, many Canadians outside Quebec used to look aghast at this artery-choking combination of fries, gravy and cheese curds before it became trendy.

Americans, particularly in the south, can counter with grits, collards, beignets, biscuits and gravy, barbecue, pulled pork, chicken-fried steak, Philly cheesesteak and that odd combination of fried chicken and waffles. Indeed, Mexican cuisine, or its Tex-Mex or New Mexican offshoots, has made far greater inroads on restaurant menus than anything Canada has to offer.

At a lot of U.S. diners and cafes, I’ve noticed, the bill is presented almost as soon as you’ve told the server you don’t want anything else. It’s done in a matter-of-fact way that I don’t mind, sometimes with the comment “Pay whenever you’re ready.” I prefer this casual efficiency to the more common situation in Canada of having to catch the server’s eye and ask for the bill. Speaking of this, I’ve heard a number of U.S. servers use the term “ticket” instead of “bill” or “check” (“cheque” if you’re Canadian).

It seems odd to me that Canada is ahead of the U.S. in anything regarding technology. But so it is with credit cards. We have followed the European example of using credit (and debit) cards with embedded chips, whereby you punch a four-digit code into a portable machine instead of signing a slip of paper. But in the U.S., using this same chip credit card, I’m never asked for anything more than a signature.

In the U.S., signs always direct you to the “restroom”. In Canada, it’s more commonly called “bathroom” or “washroom”.

At U.S. places where you order at the counter, I’m often asked “Here or to go?” My intuitive response is to say, “to stay” instead of “here.”

Canadians say “cinnamon bun”, Americans almost invariably “cinnamon roll.”

Finally, we Canadians don’t say “eh” nearly as much as is rumoured (“rumored” for you American spellers). Just like y’all don’t say “uh-huh”.

Any other dining Americanisms or Canadianisms I’m missing?


6 thoughts on “American Versus Canadian Restaurants

  1. Jim Thornton

    Great column, Bill!
    What I have found over forty years of extensive travel in the US and Canada is that in the States, as you have proven, a person can often find an interesting, well prepared, well served meal in comfortable surroundings in small towns in the middle of nowhere. Almost impossible here, except for the Twin Butte General Store. If you happen to be in, say, Medicine Hat, you’re going to find a burger licensed by the NHL.
    You’re certainly correct about having to chase the bill in Canada. You almost have to get out the door and start the motor to get a waitress’ attention.
    It used to be that they only provided cream for your coffee in the US if you specifically asked, but that has been changing.


  2. Doug Fulford

    Hey Bill,

    Getting excited to leave on your trip?

    A couple things to consider:

    1) Indian and Vietnamese are much more widely available in Canada because, whereas most US immigrants are from Mexico, most Canadian immigrants are from Asia.

    2) There is more to Quebec cuisine than poutine. It often involves maple syrup. If you google “Cabane a Sucre” you will see what I mean. Tourtiere is also a Quebec culinary standard.

    3) What about perogies and kolbassa? These are practically staples in Western Canada, where Ukrainian immigrants are so numerous we call it Edmonchuk.



  3. bcorbett907 Post author

    Right you are, though there are lots of Asian dining places on the U.S. west coast. Vermont also produces maple syrup. I forgot to mention that Calgary is credited with inventing both ginger beef and the Caesar’s drink.


  4. Steve Fedyna

    Hey Bill – liked the US versus Canada piece. One other difference: in the US NE and deep south, I noticed that when you say “Thank You” to servers, they respond with “Uh huh”. Almost sounds like “ya, really, as if”. But perhaps its just a response to us typical Canadians who say Thank you too much!


  5. LotusRapper

    I’m gonna stick out my neck here (as being only my 3rd post). My observation (from years of eating out) is American restaurants and staff tend to be much more service-oriented. And friendlier. Not to say Canadians are not friendly. But our American compatriots generally go the extra mile, without asking, and show a happier disposition. Canadian retail and service industry staff (esp. in BC and Vancouver, where I am) tend to be shyer, provide less eye contact and generally more reserved.

    In the States, I often joke with my wife that, if we chat up a store clerk or restaurant server long enough (or have become known to them as familiar faces), it’d be only a matter of time before we get invited to their house for coffee or dinner. Less inhibition, More openness to talk about all topics, esp. politics and religion, which are “taboo” topics amongst strangers here in Canada.

    Rave/rant over. My $0.25 🙂



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