Tag Archives: early 1900s

Product placement in restaurants

Product placement usually refers to the display of branded products in movies and TV shows, such as when the main character sips a certain cola or goes into a coffee shop and opens up his laptop with an image of a glowing piece of fruit clearly visible.

But manufacturers of national brand foods have long been eager to have their products on display in restaurants and that, too, is a form of product placement. In both the media and in restaurants the product is supposed to gain exposure and status by association.

Beverages were among the very first branded “food” products in the United States, and perhaps the first to place their bottles on restaurant tables and in restaurant advertising such as the 1908 Hotel Empire postcard above which features Clysmic bubbling spring water. First advertised in the 1880s as a homeopathic drink that cured cystitis and other maladies, by the early 20th century the water in the unusually shaped green bottle with the red label had become a cocktail mixer. The company put out a complimentary Booze Book which told how to mix drinks.

The Faust restaurant at New York’s Columbus Circle had similar postcards with slightly enlarged bottles of Coronet Sloe Gin and Old Quaker Rye Whiskey shown on tables in the foreground.

With restaurants it was a two-way street where food products were concerned: both the restaurants and the products sought to gain status. In the early 20th century people were distrustful of the cleanliness of restaurants as well as much of the food in the marketplace because of decades of widespread adulteration. This attitude became especially prominent following publication of Upton Sinclair’s sensational book The Jungle which exposed disgusting practices in slaughterhouses. To counter distrust branded food products began to advertise extensively and were quite successful in convincing the public they were pure.

The ever-clever “Fra” Elbert Hubbard, head of the Roycroft craft studios, developed sophisticated advertising copy in his publication The Philistine in 1901 in which he stressed that Heinz products were regularly used in the Roycroft inn’s dining room. Around 1902 the National Biscuit Company introduced industrially extruded (“shredded”) wheat to the public through restaurants, dining cars, and steamships.

Even into the 1940s and beyond, restaurants were eager to let patrons know that they used brand-name food products. “Brag About Brands” because it gives the customer confidence, suggested the New York Restaurant Association in 1946. Manufacturers — and their advertising agencies – continued to rely upon nationally known restaurants to give products name recognition and cachet. Heinz advertised extensively in the mid-20th century, with photographs showing patrons at restaurants such as Bookbinder’s in Philadelphia and the Brown Derby in Los Angeles using their catsup.

© Jan Whitaker, 2011


Filed under food, history, restaurants

“Waiter, telephone please!”

As one year ends and another begins, it’s a good time to think about what’s old and what’s new. For example, talking on a phone at the table in a restaurant seems a new-ish kind of activity. Of course you realize that I’m going to tell you it isn’t.

Even though the telephone was invented in the 1870s, it took a while for it to become an everyday necessity. So it was still newsworthy when restaurants began to provide telephone service at patrons’ tables in the early 1900s. The customer had only to say to the waiter, “Bring me a telephone,” and it would be placed on the table and plugged into a jack.

In the first few years of the 20th century tabletop telephone service was available in Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Boston, and probably all big cities. Chicago restaurants such as Kinsley’s, the Bismarck, and Boston Oyster House (pictured), as well as the tea room at Mandel Brothers department store were outfitted with table telephones. Boston’s R. H. White department store also had phone service in its restaurant. In both these stores the telephones were undoubtedly in the men’s, not the women’s, sections.

Fans of old movies might remember scenes where waiters rush telephones to male VIPs enjoying the evening out dressed in tuxedos and accompanied by mink-clad companions. But, actually, early restaurant phoning was apparently more like today’s: business transactions, usually conducted at lunch. Stock brokers in New York City — who paid a monthly telephone rental fee and might take as many as 30 calls while lunching at a restaurant — were at least liberated from their earlier practice of gulping sandwiches at their desks.

Social commentators worried about the effect on health, how working during times meant for rest would cause “brain fag” and indigestion. The invasion of the restaurant by telephones inspired one journalist in 1902 to imagine how eventually “some brilliant genius will invent a telephone that can be carried in the vest pocket and then the hustling American can wire messages to his wife, telling how busy he is while he is crossing the street or going up in the elevator.”

© Jan Whitaker, 2010

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Famous in its day: Tony Faust’s

By the 1880s Anthony E. Faust had established quite a culinary empire in St. Louis. He ran a Café and Oyster House downtown on Broadway which had a nationwide reputation. Since 1878 it had featured rooftop dining, uncommon in the U.S. then. From his adjoining “Fulton Market” he also retailed and wholesaled “Faust’s Own” oysters and other delicacies such as truffles, soy sauce, and curry powder which he shipped to Southwestern and Western states. His Faust label beer, made for him by the Anheuser brewery, was also sold in the West.

He didn’t start out in the food business but as an ornamental plasterer who immigrated from the Prussian province of Westphalia at age 17. After being shot accidentally while watching a parade, he gave up his trade and decided to open a café in 1865.

Obviously he had a knack for the new business. And it helped that St. Louis was a booming hub of shipping and commerce positioning itself to dominate commerce with the West. His closeness to the Adolphus Busch family of beer fame was undoubtedly another asset. In 1886 Tony opened a second restaurant in a huge new Exposition Building on Olive Street between 13th and 14th which hosted conventions of architects, music teachers, fraternal organizations, and the Democratic National Convention of 1888.

In the late 1880s he razed his restaurant and replaced it with a finer building. With an interior of carved mahogany woodwork, a tapestried ceiling, and an elaborate mosaic tile floor, the restaurant catered to the fashionable after-theater crowd. At some point, perhaps in 1889, a second story was added, eliminating the rooftop garden (above image, ca. 1906).

Success seemed to mean Tony could do as he wished. Caught serving prairie chickens out of season (under the frankly fraudulent name “Virginia owls”), he freely confessed and flippantly said he’d pay the fine or “break rock” if need be. When the Republican National Convention was held in St. Louis in 1896 he claimed his staff would not prepare or serve meals for Afro-American delegates. Even after the convention’s managers offered to hire a space, furnish stoves, and buy provisions to feed the black delegates if Faust would oversee the work, he absolutely refused to do it. Period.

In preparation for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair (the Louisiana Purchase Exposition), Faust joined half a dozen of St. Louis’s top restaurateurs in a trust, the St. Louis Catering Company, probably designed to buy in large quantities and possibly to set prices too. Faust went into partnership with New York’s Lüchow’s to create a Tyrolean Alps Restaurant at the Fair which seated 5,000 diners and featured costumed singers (pictured). It represented brewers’ interests as well, leading one observer to joke that the enormous beer hall should have been named “Budweiser Alps.” According to the Fair’s Official Program there was also a Faust restaurant in the Fair’s west pavilion on Art Hill.

At the time Tony Sr. died in 1906 the Faust empire included a second Fulton Market location, and another Faust restaurant in the Delmar Gardens amusement park in University City managed by his son Tony R. Faust. Like many a successful businessman in the Midwest, Tony R. went to NYC to see about opening a branch there. There was a Faust restaurant in NYC’s Columbus Circle in 1908 (pictured), but I am not certain whether this belonged to the St. Louis Fausts. In 1911 Tony Jr. was declared insane. After that his older brother Edward, an executive of Anheuser-Busch who was married to a daughter of Adolphus Busch, took over the restaurants and markets. The downtown restaurants in St. Louis and NYC, and probably the others as well, closed in 1915 and 1916, casualties of looming Prohibition.

© Jan Whitaker, 2010


Filed under history, restaurants