Restaurants (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
RESTAURANTS. Throughout much of recorded history, eating away from home and in a public place has been experienced as a burden rather than a pleasure. The emergence of restaurant going as an enjoyable, leisure time activity and of restaurants as spaces clearly distinct from cafés, taverns, inns, or brothels is a comparatively recent development. In the West, restaurant culture is no more than 250 years old (and, in many localities, it is much younger). In southeastern China, restaurants were already part of urban culture in the thirteenth century; Marco Polo was astonished by the lavish eating establishments he found in Hangzhou, where regional cuisines such as Szechwan and Honan were readily available. Yet if some cultures have a centuries-long history of public, commercial, gastronomy, many others do not. In many parts of the world, businesses clearly identifiable as restaurants have developed only in the past fifty years. They are the products of post-1945 developments in travel and trade, such as the emergence of global tourism and the spread of multinational corporations.
Europe: Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern
There were no restaurants in Europe or North America until the mid-eighteenth century, but food was often eaten away from home. In a time when people had neither running water nor refrigeration nor gas nor electricity, and when journeying between cities was a matter of weeks rather than hours, people often ate away from their places of residence. Yet, they did not rely on restaurants. Travelers expected either to carry their own food or to depend on private hospitality; public eating establishments were viewed largely with suspicion and disgust. Since antiquity, numerous writers have accused innkeepers of fraudulent trade practices and unsanitary preparations: the classical medical authority, Galen, claimed that the innkeepers of Rome substituted human meat for pork! In a less spectacular vein, countless patrons over the past two millennia have complained of being served vinegar mixed with water rather than the wine for which they had paid. Affluent travelers therefore preferred to stay with friends along the way or to purchase raw ingredients and have meals prepared by the servants who accompanied them. This was the case even when traveling great distances, such as from London to Scotland during the Middle Ages. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the existence of many recipes for traveling sauces and portable soups attests to the continued disrepute of public eateries.
Throughout antiquity and the medieval period, shops or stalls selling hot food therefore catered not to the gastronomically adventurous but to the urban poor, whose rudimentary living arrangements made food preparation nearly impossible. In the southern Italian city of Pompeii (destroyed by volcano in 79 C.E.), taverns and popinae (foodselling establishments) clustered around the baths and gladiators' dormitories but were not to be found in the more prosperous parts of the city. Members of the Roman elite preferred to recline on couches while eating, but most food-retailing establishments were furnished only with tables and chairs. Ceremonial meals of many sorts played a significant role in the political and social life of Greece and Rome, but these were always held in private residences. Moreover, women were prohibited from these exclusively male events. In these and other ways, the food culture of Mediterranean antiquity was very different from that of the West today, in which restaurants play such a major role.
During the Middle Ages, the large numbers of religious pilgrims who traveled across Europe and into the Near East sought food and shelter in monasteries and in the hostels and hospices run by religious orders. In some areas, inns and taverns provided commercial hospitality but such establishments were rare outside of cities. Nor did even the most reputable inns fully escape stigma and suspicion. Taverns and alehouses were also common in much of western Europe, but these drinking places served only a few foods to soak up the alcohol. The association of public sociability with riotous drinking meant that these were also largely male institutions, at least in theory and imagery. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they were increasingly avoided by social and cultural elites of both sexes.
Well into the 1800s, inns and cookshops primarily served meals at a single large table, known in English as an "ordinary" and in French as a table d'hôte (literally, "host's table"). These shared meals provided travelers with the opportunity (not always desired) to meet each other, but they were better suited to the regular habits of local patrons than to the erratic schedules and varied preferences of passing voyagers. Service was "French style," that is, all the different dishes were placed on the table at once and customers were expected to help themselves to whatever was in front of them. This arrangement worked well for any assertive patrons seated near the roast at the middle of the table, but it could be frustrating for shy or foreign-language-speaking guests positioned with the condiments at the far corners. Given that the food was all placed on the table simultaneously, it was also inconvenient for travelers who arrived fifteen minutes after the meal had begun.
The First Restaurants
Scholars agree that the first self-styled "restaurateurs" opened for business in Paris during the 1760s, but there is some disagreement as to the significance of these establishments. For many years, a man named Boulanger has been credited with having been the first to have sold a wide variety of choice dishes and to have served them at small, oilcloth-covered tables in his shop on the rue des Poulies. Since the early nineteenth century, it has also been usual to cite the tale of Boulanger's dispute with the city of Paris's guild of cook-caterers (traiteurs) over the precise status of his signature dish, sheep's feet in sauce. Lore and legend says that in 1765 the cook-caterers tried to shut down Boulanger's shop because the dish infringed their legal monopoly on the sale of all ragoûts (dishes cooked in a sauce). Some authors claim that the cook-caterers won their lawsuit and others say they lost, but all use this story to support the broader contention that restaurants were largely impossible until the French Revolution of 1789.
The Boulanger story has been repeated and embellished until it has become one of the most familiar items in the culinary-history, but its sources are largely apocryphal. First briefly noted by P. J. B. Le Grand d'Aussy in his 1782 Histoire de la vie privée des françois (History of the private life of the French), an early, encyclopedic venture in writing the history of food and eating, Boulanger's adventures were a popular subject with nineteenth-century antiquarian scholars keen to show how much Paris had changed since the Revolution. However, this account of the origins of restaurant going assumes that the desire to "eat out" has been largely constant throughout history and needed only the cookery talents of one man and the legal changes of one Revolution to take the form familiar today. It cannot explain how the restaurateurs of the 1760s overcame centuries of prejudice against "public cooks" and tells us little of the real importance of this new form of service. Recent scholarship, therefore, places the development of restaurant culture within broader social and historical contexts. It looks for changes not only in what was being cooked and by whom, but in the entire social and cultural framework. The first self-defined restaurateurs built on Enlightenment ideas about science and sentiment; in doing so, they created a cultural institution distinct from the eatinghouses and inns of earlier periods.
Restaurateurs in mid-eighteenth-century Paris took their name from the "restorative bouillons" in which they specialized. Made by sweating large quantities of veal, game, and poultry over high heat, these bouillons were concentrated meat broths deemed beneficial for those who were too weakened by illness or exertion to eat an entire solid meal. As they were also costly to prepare, it is hardly surprising that these bouillons were most often recommended to members of the urban elite (both male and female). Within the fashionable culture of the day, the inability or reluctance to eat a full meal was a sign of emotional and intellectual, as well as physical, sensitivity. The first restaurateurs did not cater to customers who were hungry and hurried; rather they provided a milieu in which people could make public show of their private sensibility. Opulent furnishings, mirrored walls, and porcelain consommé dishes all ensured an environment distinctly different from the hurly-burly of the tavern or inn.
In the long run, the most important innovation of the 1760s and 1770s was in the form of service. Restorative bouillons had vanished from most restaurant menus by the 1820s but the basic features of restaurant service remained. These included seating groups of patrons at their own tables, serving meals at unspecified times, and providing a menu from which customers made their own choices. All these elements created the impression that restaurants provided individual and personalized service. Restaurants were public places, insofar as they had neither membership fees nor admission requirements, but they were public places where people went for privacy. Many Paris restaurants, such as the Maison Dorée and the Cadran Bleu, were especially distinguished by their private rooms (cabinets particuliers) that were ideally suited to romantic trysts and other secretive meetings.
Restaurants in Nineteenth-Century Paris
Though they first emerged in the eighteenth century, restaurants are most commonly identified as institutions of nineteenth-century Parisian life. It is often said that they were instrumental in democratizing formerly aristocratic privileges: the one-time chefs of princes and dukes found themselves unemployed after their titled patrons fled France during the Revolution. A few early nineteenth-century restaurateurs made much of their aristocratic connections, but most restaurateurs had no such ties and were more closely linked to the other retail food trades. Antoine Beauvilliers, former pastry chef to the king's brother, did open a well-known restaurant, but he did so before the Revolution and much of his fame came from the cookbook, L'art du cuisinier (The cook's art) that he published in 1814.
One important development of this period was the distinction of two types of service: prix fixe (fixed price) and à la carte (from the menu). In the former, the customer ordered from a restricted number of items but was guaranteed to have a two-or three-course complete meal for the price specified. With service à la carte, the diner had the freedom to order anything listed on the menu but may have been surprised at the size of the final bill. In the 1820s and 1830s, these were two separate types of establishments (the latter usually being more prestigious), but today it is not uncommon to find both forms of service available in a single restaurant. Indeed, since the 1970s, a shift has occurred, such that a comparatively brief menu, restricted to locally available, seasonal ingredients, is now often seen as the mark of an upscale restaurant, while the lengthy menu parading hundreds of items is looked at with derision.
Based on early nineteenth-century texts, a short listing of the most famous first restaurants would have to include the following: Véry's (at the peak of their fame, the Véry brothers ran two prominent restaurants, one in the Palais Royal and the other in the Tuileries Gardens); the Rocher de Cancale on the rue Montorgeuil (famous both for oysters and for the epicurean singing societies that met in its private rooms); the Trois Frères Provençaux (three business partners who introduced some of the cookery of southern France to the capitalhey were especially known for their brandade, a dish of puréed salt cod, traditionally eaten on Good Friday); Méot's and Robert's (two well-known establishments of the late 1790s); the Café Hardy (despite its name, a restaurant noted for its grilled meats); and LeGacque's (home to a famous eating club, the Wednesday Society). Many restaurants of a slightly later period play a significant role in the realist novels of the 1830s and 1840s, especially those of Honoré de Balzac. At the end of the century, restaurant and café scenes featured prominently in the works of some Impressionist artists.
Two businesses currently in operation often make claims to be the oldest restaurant in Paris. These are the Tour d'Argent, housed in a sixteenth-century inn, and the Café Procope, a famous meeting place for eighteenth-century intellectuals. Since neither actually started as a restaurant per se, some may dispute their right to this title. Other old restaurants still in operation include the Véfour in the Palais Royal (converted from café to restaurant in 1817) and LeDoyen's on the Champs Elysées.
The Spread of the French Model
The use of French names for restaurants in many parts of the world indicates the nineteenth-century predominance of the Paris model. Two of the first restaurants in Sydney, Australia were named after two of the most famous ones in Paris, the Trois Frères Provençaux and the Café-Restaurant de Paris. Another famous Paris restaurant name, Véry's, was replicated in central London, where Verrey's was a Regent Street fixture from the 1850s to the 1920s. In Mexico City, the Tivoli and Maison Dorée restaurants borrowed their names and their menus from the French capital.
By the first decades of the nineteenth century, restaurants may have been fixtures in the Paris landscape but they were still uncommon in the French provinces and even more rare elsewhere. As late as the 1850s, American and British visitors to Paris remarked on how strange and marvelous it was to be offered the choice of dozens of different dishes and to eat those dishes in an ornate dining room surrounded by groups of both men and women. Many of London's exclusive gentlemen's clubs were famous for their chefs (Louis Eustache Ude at Crockford's Club and Alexis Soyer at the Reform Club are just two examples) but these clubs, restricted to members only and forbidden to women, were not the same as restaurants. An important British institution, gentlemen's clubs were copied in the colonies, especially India, where the Bengal Club (Calcutta) was founded in 1827. For members of the Victorian middle class, domestic comfort played a central part in defining their own national, social, and gender identities. Many Britons therefore looked askance at restaurants as offering proof that the French had no real home lives and, hence, no sense of family.
Hotel Restaurants and "International" Cuisine
The luxurious hotels of the late nineteenth century played an important part in introducing restaurant culture to the British and North American upper classes. These sumptuous hotels with their grand entrance lobbies and ornate dining rooms were made possible, in part, by the greatly expanded travel habits that developed with the railroad and the steamship. The French model remained preeminent in hotel restaurants for several reasons, including that country's long established reputation for luxury goods and Paris's international appeal. The standardization of a haute cuisine (high cookery) that came to be identified with "French" food and the rise of hotel training programs may also have played a role. Georges-Auguste Escoffier, a chef who worked closely with the hotel entrepreneur, César Ritz, is often credited with having rationalized restaurant kitchen work in a fashion that made it easier to teach and replicate. His cookbooks and menus were often copied and his way of organizing kitchen work became standard practice.
Until the nouvelle cuisine and fusion foods of the last third of the twentieth century, Escoffier's version of "international cuisine" dominated the hotel restaurants and so-called "fine dining" establishments of much of the world. This cuisine was international insofar as it was served to diners in grand hotels around the globe, but the recipes, ingredients, and seasonings were western European in inspiration. In many parts of the world, the introduction of this so-called "international" cookery and Western-style restaurant service went hand in hand. Organizations such as the Japanese Travel Bureau (a joint venture between government and private railroad, steamship, and hotel companies, founded 1912) actively encouraged the establishment of "European restaurants" where Western travelers would find forks and knives, printed menus, and meals served in several courses. Teahouses (frequented only by male customers) and Japanese restaurants (ryi-ya) were already widespread, but concern to show Japan as a "civilized" (i.e., Western) country led to new businesses that were furnished with tables and chairs, served large quantities of meat, and severed all ties to prostitution. During the following decades, and especially with the Allied occupation after World War II, businesses and government alike were keen to promote an image of Japan as a country that foreigners would find both reassuringly comfortable and pleasantly exotic. This demand was met by restaurants in which service duplicated that to be found in Paris, Chicago, or New York, but where the dining room was decorated with chrysanthemums, bamboo, and cherry blossoms and the menu might include a few notionally Japanese dishes.
Early Restaurants in the United States
As was true of Europe, colonial North America had taverns and boarding houses, but no restaurants. Coffee houses and oyster houses began appearing in the late eighteenth century, but the word "restaurant" was not commonly used until the 1830s or 1840s. Delmonico's, which opened in Manhattan in 1831 and occupied several different locales until it finally closed during Prohibition, is often cited as the first American restaurant but this is far from certain. Nonetheless, whether it was the first or the fifty-first, Delmonico's became a model throughout the nineteenth century. In 1868, the first railway restaurant car in the United States was named "Delmonico's" even though it operated on the Chicago-Alton line, half a continent away from New York. Charles Ranhofer, chef at Delmonico's from 1863 to 1895, helped spread the restaurant's fame in the pages of his enormous cookbook, The Epicurean, which also included anecdotal stories about the famous patrons he had met and the great meals he had cooked.
Scenes of adulterous dalliances and tipsy festivities, restaurants such as these were as infamous for scandal as they were famous for food (lobsters and champagne were the usual fare). Central to one stereotype of New York nightlife, they were largely irrelevant to many of the city's inhabitants. It should not be forgotten, however, that the lavish scale of turn-of-the-century restaurants and hotels depended on the existence of a largely immigrant underclass from which staff members were drawn. Indeed, the East Coast restaurant and hotel labor market at this time was effectively segregated by ethnicity and gender. Eastern and southern European women worked as maids, and African-American women were employed as chambermaids in the grandest hotels, while most waiters were men of French or Italian descent. Although the food served was French in name or inspiration, most of the chefs were German; French men worked as waiters or as specialized cooks, such as pastry chefs.
Mass Market Restaurants in the United States
The grand hotel restaurants of the late nineteenth century were fixtures in major cities, but they fed only a small percentage of the American population. Unlike earlier taverns or oyster houses, the lobster palaces and cabarets welcomed both men and women but this gave them an air of promiscuity that worried cultural conservatives, religious leaders, and prohibition activists. Levenstein has argued that Prohibition, by dissolving the association of eating out with alcohol consumption, did much to make eating away from home acceptable for single women and members of all social classes. It is certain that the 1920s witnessed both the closing of many of the most luxurious barrooms and the opening of numerous luncheonettes and tearooms. (It remains unclear, however, whether Prohibition caused these changes or whether Prohibition and luncheonettes were both responses to other, more fundamental, changes in American society.)
By the 1930s, the U.S. Bureau of the Census counted 200,000 food-retailing outlets, including 124,000 restaurants and over 45,000 lunch counters. The latter category included drugstore soda fountains, sandwich shops, and diners as well as hot-dog stands and box-lunch companies. It is interesting to note that the Census Bureau included automats and self-service cafeterias under the heading of restaurants.
According to Richard Pillsbury, the postwar period did not see an immediate boom in the number of restaurants, but it did witness the transformation of American culture that was crucial to their eventual growth. Changes in family life, increased urbanization, the omnipresence of the automobile, and the affluence of the middle classes all contributed to making restaurant meals a regular part of life for many Americans. Drive-in restaurants made it possible to "eat out" within the comfort of one's very own automobile. Yet variation by region and by socioeconomic class should not be overlooked. Nor should it be forgotten that eating places in the South were often segregated, and that interracial "dine ins" played a significant part in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Fred Harvey developed one of the first restaurant chains, in cooperation with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. Along the route, he built and operated seventeen Harvey Houses, which were recognizable by their décor and by the waitresses' identical uniforms. The menus were coordinated, however, to guarantee that the restaurants' pleasing familiarity did not extend to the food served, and the traveler was guaranteed of never being served the same fare two meals in a row. This show of variety under an umbrella of uniformity has been the hallmark of restaurant chains ever since.
Prior to World War II, chain restaurants were comparatively novel, accounting for only 15 percent of all restaurant business. (In contrast, chain grocery stores in the 1930s were already responsible for nearly half of all grocery sales.) Howard Johnson's, initially a New England ice cream chain, expanded along the highways of the 1930s and 1940s much as Harvey House had along the railroads.
In the late twentieth century, franchised businesses have accounted for much of the U.S. restaurant industry's expansion. In 1994, nearly 60 percent of the total 406,000 U.S. restaurants were chain units and 200,720 restaurants belonged to chains that included over 200 units. Many of these were fast-food establishments such as McDonald's, Burger King, or Kentucky Fried Chicken, but many others were full-service restaurants such as the Outback Steakhouse, the Olive Garden, Bennigan's, or Denny's. The success of these chains suggests that customers value familiarity. Eating out has become routinized.
So-called "ethnic" restaurants may seem a logical outgrowth of the waves of immigration to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to Australia in the same period, and to Great Britain in the period since World War II. In part, they are, for economic marginalization and racism have often caused recently arrived immigrants to concentrate in businesses requiring comparatively small capital investment, such as catering. Moreover, recruitment of new workers for these enterprises is usually done informally, through family and community connections, and further concentrates the members of an ethnic group in a few businesses. Since most restaurant employees do not actually speak to the customers, it is seen as an ideal line of work for recent immigrants who feel uncertain about their linguistic abilities.
Yet it should not be imagined that these restaurants have simply been transplanted from the immigrants' home country. Nineteenth-century Greece had few, if any, restaurants (and the inns were as disreputable as they had been two thousand years before), but late-nineteenth-century Greek immigrants to the United States quickly became concentrated in the restaurant industry.
The food served in ethnic restaurants often constitutes a distinct cuisine. In all cultures and contexts, there are some foods that are almost exclusively eaten in restaurants and others that never are. (For example, one would have to read a great many U.S. restaurant menus before finding those two staples of the American diet, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and popcorn.) If we consider Indian restaurants in the United Kingdom, we find that by the 1990s, they employed more people (roughly 70,000) than the shipbuilding and steel industries combined. Many of these were staffed by immigrants from the province of Sylhet in the northeastern corner of Bangladesh, but the food served had its roots in other parts of the subcontinent. Ingredients and cooking methods from the northwestern region of Punjab dominate "Indian" restaurant food in much the same way that one version of "French" cooking was once the norm in Western restaurants. This may be because the 1947 partition caused many Punjabis to migrate to Delhi and other cities where they started running food stalls. When the Indian government established catering colleges in the 1960s to train employees for the tourist industry, the instructors came from these Punjabi families. Since they taught north Indian cooking, this was what the students learned, regardless of the students' own ethnic or regional background.
Working in Restaurants
Restaurants combine characteristics of both production and service industries. Since William Foote Whyte's classic study, Human Relations in the Restaurant Industry (1948), social scientists have recognized that this combination leads to a conflict of interests between kitchen and dining-room employees. While the waitstaff must be constantly attentive to the demands and desires of the customers, the kitchen workers have their own distinct priorities. If a few famous chefs such as Paul Bocuse, Joel Robuchon, or Alice Waters seem to set the standards to which gourmets aspire, many other chefs and kitchen employees see themselves as ordinary, working-class, people, who have little in common with their middle-class and upper-middle-class patrons (see Fine, 1996).
Labor historians have long puzzled over the very low rates of unionization in restaurant work. One explanation is that the industry has largely institutionalized a system of informal rewards that would be lost with formal contracts: tipping encourages competition among members of the wait staff, rather than solidarity. Furthermore, waiting tables is commonly casual work rather than a lifelong career. Finally, the antagonistic, often combative, relation between kitchen and dining-room employees means that no single union has ever had much success in reaching both groups of workers.
It may be difficult to imagine that the first restaurant kitchens were fueled by coal or wood, but so they were. Smoke-filled, sooty, and with little in the way of refrigeration, the restaurant kitchens of the early nineteenth century would appall any health inspector today. The Belle Epoque restaurant boom in Australia and elsewhere was made possible by the increasing ease of railroad transportation and the availability of refrigeration techniques, while it was made further profitable by the expansion of advertising. The steakhouses so popular in the Anglophone world of the 1950s and 1960s (such as the Steak & Ale chain in the United States or the Berni Inns of Great Britain and Japan) served Argentinean beef and a limited number of simple side dishes, all easily prepared by semiskilled labor. Today, much of the inexpensive food consumed in restaurants, like the convenience food prepared at home, is made possible by the introduction of microwave technology. Any account of the spread and standardization of the industry should also consider the growth of restaurant-supply firms.
Restaurant Guides and Reviews
A. B. L. Grimod de La Reynière (1758837) is generally credited with having invented the restaurant review. His yearly Almanach des gourmands (Gourmands' almanac), published in the first decade of the nineteenth century, pointed its readers to the finest restaurants, pastry cooks, and gourmet shops of Napoleonic Paris. A bestseller in its day, it also set the precedent for later ventures in restaurant reviewing. The advent of rail and automobile travel expanded the market for restaurant guides. The Michelin tire company published its first hotel/restaurant guide to France in 1900 and awarded its first stars in 1926. Since then, airlines and automobile manufacturers have often ventured into the guidebook/cookbook business, though none have had the enduring importance of the Michelin guides and their rankings. Governments keen to promote tourism have also entered the business of publishing guidebooks and encouraging the hospitality industry.
In the mid-twentieth century, a somewhat different form of restaurant guide emerged, written neither by a lone gastronome nor by a faceless corporation. Duncan Hines (Adventures in Good Eating) in the United States and Raymond Postgate (Good Food Guide) in the United Kingdom both promised to publish recommendations sent by their readers. Postgate did this much more than Hines, but both contributed to the idea that members of the ordinary eating public might have their opinions heard. In the early twenty-first century, thousands of amateur reviewers made their opinions known on their own websites.
Why People Do Not Go to Restaurants
The idea of voluntarily going out to eat sits uneasily with the teachings of many religions. People who obey Jewish, Moslem, Jain, or Hindu dietary laws may find it no easier to eat in a Michelin three-star restaurant than in a stockyard or petshop. Both Jewish and Moslem law prescribes how livestock should be slaughtered. Unless an eatery is run by a known member of the community, observant patrons may not be willing to eat the meat served there. Brahmans, members of the highest Hindu caste, are forbidden to eat or drink anything prepared by a member of another caste. In addition, only other Brahmans are supposed to see them eating. Many Orthodox Hindus of all castes are highly reluctant to consume food (or even drink water) prepared and brought by unknown hands, even when traveling long distances. Jains are so profoundly vegetarian that they refuse to eat food prepared by someone who is not, even if the meal includes no animal products. None of these dietary laws can be obeyed in a restaurant where the cook remains unknown to the diner. In such a context, a restaurant meal can be only an ordeal.
As mentioned above, British middle-class culture, with its emphasis on domesticity, was slow to adopt the custom of eating out. In the late 1800s, the famous grill-room, Simpsons in the Strand, tried to attend to cultural norms by offering separate dining rooms for men and women. Lower down the social scale, working-class Britons in the early twentieth century might sometimes rely on takeout from local fish-and-chip businesses, but the association of restaurants with upper-class Francophilia meant that they, too, were unlikely to go out to eat. In many respects, then, it was not until the 1950s and 1960s that restaurant culture became a significant part of British life.
Why People Go to RestaurantsIn many parts of the world, certain specialty foods are rarely, if ever, prepared at home and the chance to eat
It may seem paradoxical, but food is rarely the only reason that people go out to eat. The evidence of the past several centuries indicates that restaurants may serve many different functions. Even within a single dining room, some customers may be celebrating a wedding anniversary and others may be cheating on their spouses. By entertaining guests or meeting friends in a restaurant, people can shield their domestic lives from others; in France today, only the very closest friends are ever invited into the home. In moments of domestic conflict, eating in the comparatively public space of a restaurant may be a way to reestablish the outward forms and appearances of civility.
As publicly accessible places in which patrons are seated at their own tables and eat their own meals, restaurants seem to provide a window into other people's private lives. The elaborately mirrored dining rooms of many nineteenth-century restaurants made it especially easy to observe one's fellow patrons without staring at them directly. Diners could preserve the illusion of their own privacy, even as they peered into that of others. Since the 1980s, there has been a brief trend toward very large and loud restaurants where the crowded atmosphere may further blur the distinction between private and public. There has also, however, been a renewed interest in intimate private dining rooms far from the eyes of star-struck strangers and the ears of curious waiters.
The various "ethnic" restaurants found in American cities in the 1930s were distinguished more by their furnishings and music than by their cuisine. Today's cult of culinary authenticity may scoff at the notion that red lacquer walls and a Pekingese under the table suffice to make a restaurant "Chinese," but it is important to recognize that many supposedly national cuisines have been produced by the demands of restaurant culture.
See also Chef, The; Delmonico Family; Escoffier, Georges-Auguste; Fusion Cuisine; Grimod de La Reynière; Kitchens, Restaurant; Nouvelle Cuisine; Places of Consumption; Waiters and Waitresses.
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Rebecca L. Spang