How Did the First Restaurant Come About?

April 23 2019 – Robert Fiumara

The History Of The Restaurant

Humans have been cooking practically since the beginning of time – or at least since they discovered meats and produce alike were tastier and easier to eat with a little bit of preparation. However, it was some time before a version of the modern-day restaurant appeared, with workers preparing food for paying customers. How did the first restaurant come about? 

From Restorative to Restaurant

By the 1700s, society had moved far beyond those early days of roasting meat on a spit in a cave. However, the closest the world had come to a restaurant as of yet was the relatively common practice in which inn patrons paid the inn host for food from his own personal table. Other patrons were able to purchase beverages from cafes throughout the city, but no establishment existed where a customer could walk in, choose from a selection of dishes, purchase food prepared specifically for paying customers and eat.

In 1765, that all changed when a soup maker by the name of A. Boulanger decided to market a variety of soups and broths to potential customers on the street. He designated himself a soup vendor and opened a small establishment in downtown Paris, advertising his various soups as restoratives, or restaurants, in French. Eventually, Restaurant became the name used for Boulanger’s establishment, and he remained in business for many years.

As you may have guessed, the term “restaurant” eventually became synonymous with the very concept of serving food to others for profit. In fact, most languages in the world base their own terms for the concept on the original French, including the Italian ristorante, the Spanish restaurante, the Polish restauracia, and of course, the English restaurant.

The Restaurant Evolves

Boulanger’s soup establishment was a rather small affair in Paris – perhaps more of a shop than what we know as a restaurant today. Although the culinary arts were thriving in the city, most of the work was occurring in private kitchens by professional chefs cooking for wealthy, aristocratic families. Elsewhere in Europe, roadside carts, small shops, and taverns began popping up, offering a small selection of homey or ready-made food available for purchase and quick consumption. It was over seven years after the founding of Boulanger’s shop that the first establishment resembling a modern luxury restaurant opened, also in the city of Paris.

The Grande Taverne de Londres capitalized on the previously-missing service aspect of Boulanger’s shop and the roadside stands. Patrons could enter the establishment, which was designed to be as beautiful as its food, order from a carefully curated menu, and receive service from professional waiters. The proprietor, Antoine Beauvilliers, was successful in establishing the culinary arts and fine dining in Paris. He proceeded to open other restaurants in the city, spurred on by the happenings of the French Revolution.

The Revolution forced many aristocratic families into hiding, causing their culinary staff to seek employment elsewhere. The rapidly dwindling market for professional home kitchen staff led more and more professional chefs and kitchen staff into the restaurants until there were over 500 restaurants opening in Paris at the beginning of the 19th century. France would go on to produce some of the greatest chefs of all time, cementing its place in culinary history as the site of many industry firsts.

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