The History of Restaurants, Part 2

Busy corner bistro in the Saint Medard District in Paris, France
••• Bruno De Hogues/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

After the French Revolution at the end of the 18th Century, displaced chefs from aristocratic households paved the way for the modern restaurant dining experiences we enjoy today. Creating à la carte menus featuring gourmet food, the chefs focused on fine dining experiences by cooking private dinners for people.

The Birth of Fine Dining

The chefs added touches of the upper class to their establishments. Guests did not have to take their meals at a common table, for instance, as was typical of taverns and roadside inns. Instead, diners sat at private tables, which were held by reservations—a new concept. 

Guests dined with fine china and cutlery on tablecloths, trademarks of modern-day fine dining. Menus, either prix fixe or à la carte, were framed for presentation. At the end of the meal, guests were presented with a check tallying the amount of their bill.

The Rise of Restaurants in France After the Revolution

Many fortunes were made for these professional chefs-turned-restaurateurs. They catered to a new class of provincial deputes that came to Paris following the end of the Revolution. Savvier restaurateurs adapted their eateries to include such amenities as bathrooms, for which there was a charge to use.

Before the Revolution, there were fewer than 50 restaurants in Paris. By 1814, the Almanach des Gourmands, a popular travel guide, listed 3,000 restaurants in the city. Thanks to advancements in travel, luxury dining destinations were subsequently established across Europe and abroad in the 19th Century. By the 20th Century, restaurants evolved into the familiar concepts we see today. 

The French Create New Restaurant Concepts

During the 19th Century, the number of restaurants in Paris continued to rise thanks to advancements in travel. After the defeat of Napoleon, wealthy Europeans flocked to Paris to partake in the many gourmet dining options. This was especially true of the allied officer gentlemen—a trend that would be repeated following the end of WWII.

The 19th Century also marked the rise of cafés, a style of restaurant which doesn't offer table service. Rather, customers order their food from a counter and serve themselves. Outside of Paris, soup kitchens and dairy shops offered home-style cooking for cheap, attracting members of the lower working class.

Gourmet Dining Goes Global 

By the end of the 19th Century, travel advancements stoked luxury tourism, which inspired travelers to want to eat when they were away from home. Eating became an art rather than merely a necessity. Part of the travel experience involved dining at famous Parisian cafés and restaurants, which by then had built a solid reputation for excellent food and service.

In the 1880s, César Ritz, a Swiss developer, partnered with prominent French chef Auguste Escoffier at the Grand Hotel of Monte Carlo, which became the first place to offer luxury accommodations and gourmet dining all under one roof. Other luxury hotels soon began popping up all over Europe.

The 20th Century saw the French Restaurant go global. In Spain, it was a "restaurant." In Italy, it was called a "ristorante." In Great Britain and the United States, it remained "restaurant," but would soon evolve to fit the demands of changing consumers. By the end of that century, restaurants in the United States would evolve further, introducing the world to restaurant chains, fast food, and an eventual return to farm-to-table dining.