The History of the Restaurant Business
As a small-scale restaurateur, your business is actually part of a tradition that is very old, yet relatively modern. Human beings have always eaten, but the business of selling food to customers who order off a menu is a phenomenon dating back to the French Revolution. Before that time, diners bought food at street food stalls and public houses. Today's restaurants are characterized by their capacity to create a space and a dining experience. They also usually offer customers a choice of menu options. Upscale restaurants offering fixed price menus are an exception to this trend, but they nonetheless focus on the dining experience, as compared to the expedient fare of historical eating options.
The business of offering food in exchange for money dates back at least to medieval times. Travelers in need of food could grab something to eat at a roadside inn, and street vendors offered quick and simple fare in public marketplaces. Medieval inns differed from modern restaurants in that they tended to offer very limited eating options. Everyone ate the same thing, and they often ate it at the same time, whenever the cook was ready to serve it.
During the French Revolution, independent chefs began establishing eating houses where customers could come in whenever they were hungry and choose food selections from a menu. This had not been possible in France until the time of the revolution because the guild system severely limited the offerings that any artisan could prepare, making it difficult for a single cook to serve something as simple as a meat pie, which used both the skills of the meat cook and the pastry cook. Restaurants were named for a simple restorative broth that was popular in the earliest modern eating establishments.
The American restaurant business started off emulating the French restaurant business, seeing it as the epitome of taste and class. But American restaurants always focused on ingredients that were in abundance in the United States, such as the oysters of the Northeast. As was fitting for a nation of immigrants, American food quickly began to diversify, with Chinese, Italian, Greek and other immigrants offering and adapting their food for a mainstream clientele. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the United States led the way in the consolidation of industrialization of restaurant and food service offerings with fast food chains and family dining franchises.
The modern restaurant industry encompasses a wide variety of eating establishments ranging from upscale artisan eateries to chains and franchises with thousands of locations. On one end of the spectrum, passionate chefs with skills and knowledge pay close attention to quality ingredients and sophisticated preparation techniques. On the other end of the spectrum, restaurants with multiple locations buy pre-made menu items from food service warehouses, hiring chefs to prepare these dishes using carefully choreographed systems that leave little to chance.