According to the dictionary a restaurant is defined as “an establishment where meals are served to customers”. But if we were to look in a dictionary in the 17th Century a very different explanation would be conveyed.
Then, a restaurant was a meat consommé or bouillon which was produced literally to ‘restore’ good health. A medicinal mush that could easily be digested by the sickly needing a pick me up. The restaurant as we know it today just didn’t exist. Of course there were taverns and inns serving food, but these were meant mainly for travellers to fill up in. Dish of the day was the only choice and this was served at the host’s one communal table as and when it was ready. Table d’hote is simply the host’s table.
We have to turn to France for the origins of our restaurants. In 1765, a restaurateur named Boulanger decided he would offer a choice of his soup like restaurants to his customers for whatever ailments they were suffering from. He put up a sign above his door and the restaurant was born. The following year in Paris, Mathurin Roze de Chantoiseau opened up a place selling “only those foods that either maintain or re-establish health” rather than just soups. He set out individual tables and allowed his customers to choose which dishes they wanted. Up until this time menus had been just a list of food that would be appearing at the table for dinner tonight, which stems from the Latin minutus – detailed list.
By 1782 the first luxury restaurant as we would know them today had appeared. Opened in Paris by Antoine Beauvillers, La Grande Taverne de Londres served many grand dishes, the only difference being in the way that the food was served – service a la francaise. At that time the food was put on the table for the diners to help themselves. It wasn’t until the early 19th Century after a visit from a Russian prince that service a la russe was introduced serving each diner their own individual plate of food.
The French Revolution saw the demise of the aristocracy creating an army of unemployed chefs once employed in the palatial châteaux of the rich. Some chefs left to work abroad but many opened up their own establishments and by 1804 there were more than 500 restaurants in Paris.
Soon restaurants spread out from Paris and on into surrounding countries. Sometimes, with a subtle change of name, as in the Italian ristorante or the Swedish restaurang. The first restaurant in the US is said to have been opened by Frenchman Jean Gilbert Julien in Boston in 1793 named “Julien’s Restarator”. And over 200 years later we now have an estimated 945,000 restaurants generating $566 billion sales in 2008, all thanks to those original restoratives.
Photos with thanks to Alan C or Marion, Sampath Maddalf, Jovike, Kazuki Miyata and Erik44 - flickr.