Restaurant – funny word that – what’s its origins?

The word ‘Restaurant’ derives from the French verb restaurer,  meaning to restore. It was first used in France in the 16th century, to describe the thick and cheap  soups sold by street vendors that were advertised to restore your health.

It was in 1765 that a Monsieur Boulanger of Paris actually opened a shop selling soups. The sign outside of M. Boulanger’s shop is said to have read, “VENITE AD ME VOS QUI STOMACHO LABORATIS ET EGO RESTAURABO VOS” (Come to me, all who labour in the stomach, and I will restore you.) and this led to the use of the word restaurant to describe such shops. Boulanger did try to add stew to his list of soups but was successfully sued by a number of Parisian traiteurs (people who ran cookhouses). But it was not too long before ‘restaurants’ combined both soup and other food courses, including stews.

But his soup-shop was still a long way off from the types of establishment we think of today when we utter the word restaurant.  Nicholas Kiefer in his excellent published article, Economics and the Origin of the Restaurant, has this to say: 

“Pressures leading to the creation of the restaurant— with its individual tables, individual orders, flexible dining times convenient to the patrons, and payment by item ordered—came from both those who demanded food away from home and from its suppliers. From the diner’s point of view, the restaurant format offered a kind of privacy. The diner could eat alone or with companions of his or her choosing. The table d’hôte format is more social, but the mix of companions facing a stranger coming to an inn or cookshop [traiteurs] wasn’t always ideal for outsiders. More important, the diner in a restaurant could order, eat, drink, and pay for only and exactly what she wished. In contrast, in the table d’hôte format one ate what one could grab of what was served. Finally, the restaurant patron could eat at the time of his convenience, rather than when the host chose to serve the meal.”  

While there were restaurants in some form or other in Paris during the decades preceding the French Revolution, it was this late 18th Century historical event that provided the social conditions for the evolution of the restaurant as we know it today. A restaurant boom occurred at this time through the elimination of restrictive Guild rules coupled with the large number of chefs entering the labour market who had previously been employed by aristocrats who had lost their heads.

As the London Dorchester’s executive chef, Jocelyn Herland, recently remarked:

“If I could go back to any historic period, I would have to say the time after the French revolution of 1789. It was during this time that restaurants, as we know them today, made their appearance. After the French revolution, many chefs who were cooking high-quality cuisine at the houses of noblemen lost their jobs and thus opened their own restaurants.”

So there you have it. The origin of the word Restaurant. Thanks for reading.

About Jim McNeill

I am a blogger on 'The Social History of the Touraine region of France (37)' and also 'The Colonial History of Pennsylvania and the life & Family of William Penn'. I am a Director of Fresh Ground Group Ltd.
This entry was posted in French Revolution, Restaurants and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Restaurant – funny word that – what’s its origins?

  1. Pingback: Let’s go to the Restauranteur! | philipghunt

  2. I think this is plain wrong and the word is much older. Estiatorio is the word in Greek, and it has been used since ancient times. For example, at the Asklepion in Epidaurus the area where the food sacrifices were eaten was the Estiatorion and dates to around 400 BC. I believe the word originates from Hestia, who was the goddess of fire, and the restaurant was so called because this is where the fire was.

  3. Jim McNeill says:

    Jean – thanks for the feedback, it was enlightening for me as well! I’d never previously wondered about the origins of a word in such every-day use.

  4. jean says:

    Fascinating. Thanks for the research and information.

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