Do you go to restaurants
to eat or “to restore”?
The Origin of Restaurants
a concise story
Centuries ago, like now, there were hostels, posadas or taverns where food was served in exchange for money, as in a thermopolium in Rome (snack-bar) where probably we of would often go.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in these businesses food was served in shared tables and consisted of a fixed menu, according to what was already prepared. Even the nobility, like celebrities today, would frequent when traveling.
But, when did the concept and business of restaurants truly begin?
It began with Paracelsus (1493-1541), a brilliant Swiss physician who modernized medicine with rational clinical judgment and changed the way we eat in the Western #world.
These elements were derived from the four Aristotle elements:
earth, water, air, and fire; or as the four qualities: cold, hot, moist, and dry.
During medieval times, science, culture and food were based on the four
cardinal points, as the four Hippocrates
or Galen humors of medicine: blood,
yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm.
During the middle ages, food among privileged
classes was cooked not based on nutrients.
The meals were based on the balance of the four elements: cold, hot, moist, and dry. Many dishes were prepared combining foods that were perceived to be cold, hot, moist, or dry. They were spiced with salt, sugar, other spices & dry fruits and were usually cooked for an extended time.
These meals were basically stews similar
to the moles of Mexico, the curries of
India, or the tajins from Morocco.
Paracelsus inferred the negative effects of these diets had on health. He correlated these “medieval stews” with several diseases and conditions including dental cavities, diabetes, and gout. Then Doctor Paracelsus proposed diets to prevent disease and restore health.
It was a culinary revolution among nobles and
wealthy people. The restorative diets included
broths, salads prepared with fresh vegetables, &
a main dish of meat or fish, all of them sugarless.
At the end the meal, a small dessert was optional
to satisfy those with a sweet tooth.
Two centuries passed. Around 1750 a Frenchman named Mathurin Roze de Chantoiseau, emphasizing hygiene and health, revived the Paracelsus’ restorative diet and began a business.
A few years, later the baker and tavern owner Boulanger, sold broths in Paris popularizing the concept.
“Come to me, all of you whose stomachs are in distress, and I will restore you”.
This was the slogan hung at the entrance of Boulanger’s business.
The term boulangerie for selling bread (a bakery) was perhaps popularized in English because of him and the name of his business "Le Restaurant Boulanger."
In 1766 Roze de Chantoiseau further improved the restorative diet as a business.
The whole ambiance was “restorative,” focusing special attention to details:
comfortable seating in individual tables!
personal attention by formally dressed personnel.
A new level of dinning restorative food was born.
But it was not until the 1769 Almanach listed the
particulars of all the “most famous and important”
Parisian trades and businesses that the French
people learned that a certain “M. Roze” was the
city’s “first restaurateur.”
In 1782, Antoine Beauvillier
introduced a new concept.
He provided the clients with a
repertoire of available dishes.
The customers read from these
menu de repas, or
“list of what is served at a meal”
a description of the different dishes they could choose.
The menu was introduced.
The customers were seated in individual tables! In short, the atmosphere was elegant, with amiable service, superb cuisine, and prime wine selection. It was a business that only rich merchants, nobles, favorites of the court, etc. could afford.
You could find there the stars of the time.
But in 1789: the French Revolution
The proclamation of the Republic ended the employment of chefs working for the nobility. To continue practicing their trade many chefs moved on to work for the new “restaurants.” Others opened their own businesses offering restorative, nouvelle cuisine.
The restorative diet, served in establishments
“with ambiance,” increased in number and
became more popular. Well to do customers
enjoyed the new cuisine that years before
was available only in mansions and castles.
Toward the end of the 18th and during the 19th centuries there was an expansion of restaurants throughout Europe and the world. With increased competition, prices became more affordable.
The middle classes could finally have
access to the new culinary innovations,
the Paracelsian restorative diet, in
environments previously reserved
to the wealthy.
Curiously, the word restaurant is not defined in the 1759 Samuel Johnson’s “Dictionary of the English Language,” nor was it defined in the 1828 Webster’s “An American Dictionary of the English Language.”
Restaurant was defined in the 1847
Merriam Webster Dictionary as
“An eating house.”
Now the Merriam Webster Dictionary
defines it as “a business establishment
where meals or refreshments may
The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:
“A place where people pay to sit and eat meals that are cooked and served on the premises”
Also, it describes its origin: “Early 19th century: from French, from restaurer ‘provide food for’ (literally ‘restore to a former state’).”
In Spanish, the term restaurant
was defined for the first time in
the dictionary of the Spanish
Royal Academy (DRAE) in 1803
as “a person who restores
something” and remained so
In 1925 el DRAE redefined restaurant as “establishment where food is served.”
Now it is defined as:
“public establishment where food and beverages are served, for a price, to be consumed in said establishment.”
Thus, nondomestic eateries existed prior to Chantoiseau’s day, but dining out consisted mainly of attending a table d’hôte, a large public table where one took what was offered—usually at an appointed hour.
All of us enjoy our favorite restaurants, perhaps unaware of their true origins.
Sources: non fictional portion of the novel “Las Trinas Cuadras,” The Invention of Restaurants, Rebecca Spang, The Oxford Companion to Foods, and cited dictionaries.
With apologies to Botin in
Madrid cited in the Guinness
World Records as the oldest
restaurant in the world (1725).