The Pre-History of Restaurants

In writing about the French restaurants, I came to question just exactly where the idea of “restaurants” comes from. As per usual, I’ve discovered something that I have previously did not know.

The word itself provides a fair amount of clues…restaurant comes from the Old French term restaurateur, which meant someone who provides (i.e. sells) restaurer. Restauarer means “to restore”. In other words – a “restorative”.

If one were to look back in the history books for the word “restaurant”, the first appearance shows up in the 15th century as a recipe. In this recipe, a capon is rendered in a glass kettle along with gold or gems. This itself also help evolve into the idea that chicken soup can cures what ails.

Over the course of years, restaurants evolved from gold laden rendered chicken, into soups and broths which were sold to the public by specific people. Much like other food producers, restaurateurs had their own guild and were able to sell the broth, much like charcutiers sold sausages and rotisseurs sold fresh game.

It was this collection of different vendors and sellers of food that allowed restaurateurs to flourish.

The French Revolution helped take down, not just a monarchy, but the economic system of guilds that sometimes prevented one food producer from selling products that were typically the “responsibility” of another. Additionally the bourgeoisie became a viable economic force as tradesmen and artisans started to travel to other areas of France to find new markets for their wares. These traveling businessmen looked for places to eat which offered a variety of foods in a comforting atmosphere that reflected their own station in life. These were variables that inns and taverns (the initial purveyors of food to travelers) could not meet on a regular basis.

Restaurants filled this void nicely, first by selling varieties of bouillon. Then, as the guild system slowly dissolved away, they started offering other foodstuffs, such as soups, meats and pastries. This eventually (and quickly) evolved into businesses that resemble the restaurants we know of today.

Who would have thought that the creation of restaurants was so involved?