Early Restaurants

Early Restaurants

While we might think of going out for dinner as a modern concept, and the way in which we do it now indeed is, restaurants in some form or another have been around for hundreds of years. Evidence of early restaurants dates back to Greek and Roman times when customers would choose food from large bowls which were sunk into the ground; these were known as thermopolium. These early restaurants date back at least 2000 years and were thought to be necessary to early societies as a form of socialising. One of the places which they have been found is in Pompeii in Italy.

Restaurants have also been part of Chinese society for over 1000 years, with evidence of early eating establishments dating back as far as the 11th century. The first ones came to light in Kaifeng; the then capital of China, during the Song dynasty. It is believed that they were developed as an offshoot of the famous tea houses, where people could get something to eat while visiting for a pot of the popular Chinese beverage. Restaurants in China developed at the same time theatre, prostitution and gambling were all flourishing in Chinese society.

On the other side of the world in Europe, restaurants were developing in a wholly different way, in a move that was primarily centred around alcohol. In France and the United Kingdom (UK), early dining spots were not called restaurants, but taverns. The inns and taverns of the 12th and 13th century were not exactly sophisticated in the UK, but instead, they served basic food to the poor, along with copious amounts of booze. Food was also served in France, especially Paris, at cabaret shows, which were one of the few places that the general public could dine in. It was in France, in the 17th century, when the concept of the set menu was developed. A flat fee was paid for the table, and everyone would consume a predetermined menu, though individual meals could still be ordered.

France was also the location of the birth of the modern restaurant. Mathurin Roze de Chantoiseau was the name of the man who opened the first place, which we would now recognise as a restaurant, on the Rue des Poulies. This was the start of a culinary revolution in France, and over the coming years, restaurants of various ilks began to open up all over Paris. 1786 saw the opening the first luxury restaurant in Paris, and perhaps the world, and was called Taverne Anglaise. It served excellent food, was staffed with exceptionally dressed waiters, and for the first time, also offered an extensive wine list, for customers to enjoy along with their meals.