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Thread: The History of the Restaurant

  1. #1
    Bureaucratically Efficient Senior Member TinCow's Avatar
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    Default The History of the Restaurant

    I was reading a book on the history of London in the 19th Century during my commute home this evening when I came across a tidbit of information that totally floored me: restaurants did not exist in London until the mid-1800s and did not become common until the turn of the century. A quick check of Wikipedia when I got home corroborates this information, going so far as to say that restaurants did not exist anywhere in western civilization until the 18th century, when they began to appear in France.

    This has me totally shocked and immensely excited. I have studied history from ancient times to modern, east to west, north to south, and the idea that restaurants were a recent invention never once occurred to me. Certainly, people ate outside the home, such as from street vendors, greengrocers, and butchers, but these places were designed to supply the public with food, not provide a destination for consumption. Similarly, while some inns and taverns have certainly served food throughout the ages, this was a side business. People went to inns to sleep and taverns to drink, the food was only a secondary matter, if it was present at all.

    If true, I find this to be totally remarkable. I understand that a certain amount of public wealth is required to support a restaurant industry, but there have been many large cities throughout the history of western civilization that surely had enough of a wealthy populous to support them. How can it be that this most fundamental of institutions was never created before 18th century Paris?

    It also makes me greatly optimistic about the future of civilization. I personally consider cuisine to be one of, if not the only, completely unifying aspects of human existence. Different peoples eat different foods in different styles and with different customs. That said, every last person on earth enjoys a good meal and has their mood improved by a satisfied stomach. If the route to a man's heart is through his stomach, perhaps the route to world peace is through global cuisine. Restaurants are always at the cutting edge of improvements in the quality and diversity of our various foodstuffs. These days, most people probably eat 'foreign' foods long before they ever visit a foreign nation. If restaurants truly are a new thing, then civilization has recently produced a new institution that has the potential to please every person on Earth and increase the understanding and interaction between distant cultures at the same time. I find this to be a very encouraging notion.


  2. #2
    American since 2012 Senior Member AntiochusIII's Avatar
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    Default Re: The History of the Restaurant

    Well, the rich had their own cooks and their private parties. And when they're on vacation they often go to their own country houses...bringing their own cooks.

    The poor simply couldn't afford regularly using restaurants, even if, combined, the overall wealth of a city seems great.

    However, taverns, as you pointed out, served food too. And I suspect a sort of a proto-restaurant thing is entirely possible especially in busier taverns; something like how this tavern is famous for a certain kind of wine or a certain kind of food, and if you want to work as a cook you just work for a tavern or build your own...

    I agree with you though, it's a very interesting phenomenon; one which validates the claim that a Middle Class Westerner of today might really live a more luxurious life than past monarchs.

    A similar example would be the Coffee Shop, born in Istanbul in the Early Modern times...

    Edit: Your thread also convinces me that I need to read up on this matter seriously! It seems like such an interesting thing. A little trip to Amazon reveals this book, I wonder if my Uni library will carry it, hmm.
    Last edited by AntiochusIII; 01-10-2008 at 01:09.

  3. #3

    Default Re: The History of the Restaurant

    does it tie in with the replacement of the landed aristocracy by the bourgoise? similarily to what AntiochusIII said, i could see the aristocrats taking their own cooks everywhere, but as the men of buisness began to gain wealth and political prestige and were accumulating in major cities, i could see one of them deciding to open up a food establishment to service thier needs as most of them would be found in the same buildings on the same streets or districts and they would have enough disposable income to afford to not eat at home.
    indeed

  4. #4
    (Insert innuendo here) Member Balloon Bomber Champion DemonArchangel's Avatar
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    Default Re: The History of the Restaurant

    Wait, what about the history of the Restaurant in China? Isn't that worth mentioning?
    Quote Originally Posted by Louis VI the Fat View Post
    China is not a world power. China is the world, and it's surrounded by a ring of tiny and short-lived civilisations like the Americas, Europeans, Mongols, Moghuls, Indians, Franks, Romans, Japanese, Koreans.

  5. #5
    Bureaucratically Efficient Senior Member TinCow's Avatar
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    Default Re: The History of the Restaurant

    That's why I specifically stated "western civilization." Restaurants (tea houses) have existed in China for 1000 years. Even so, I still find that a surprising figure. I would have guessed that they would have started far earlier in that most ancient of civilizations. Doesn't it seem strang that even in China the restaurant was not invented until well after gunpowder? It seems like such an obvious concept...


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