The restaurant business didn’t get much respect until it was sharply disconnected from drinking and put on a business-like footing in the Prohibition era of the 1920s. Before this there were, of course, some high-paid chefs as well as many restaurant owners who made good money but their financial success did not generally translate into social status as it often does today. On the whole anyone who had an education and options in how they earned their living stayed far away from work in restaurants.
The negative attitude toward restaurants is illustrated in a passage in the 1894 novel Dan of Millbrook by Charles Carleton Coffin. The following exchange between two old friends speaking of a former schoolmate named Caleb Krinkle is revealing of the low esteem held by the typical native-born middle class American for anyone working in a restaurant or “eating-saloon” (a common lunchroom).
Miss Wayland: By the way, how are our old friends at Millbrook – that sweet girl, Miss Fair, and Mr. Krinkle?
Her friend: Mr. Krinkle is not there; he is in this city.
Miss Wayland: In Boston?
Her friend: Yes; and rather low down in the world: he is in an eating-saloon.
Miss Wayland, looking sad: You surprise me. I thought him an estimable young man, with a bright future before him.
Her friend: There came a sudden change in his fortunes; his father was drowned … while attempting to save a little girl; all of his property was swept away, and Caleb was forced, of course, to step down from the position he had occupied. He is plodding along now in an eating-room …
Miss Wayland: Mr. Krinkle tending an eating-saloon? How strange!
Her friend: Truth is stranger than fiction, it is said.
Miss Wayland: I am really sorry for him.
© Jan Whitaker, 2009