Although I have found the word “restaurant” used as early as 1830, it wasn’t until about 1850 that it became common in the United States. Before that there were a variety of related words which can be seen developing into the present-day usage.
The first, in this country, was restorator, introduced as far as is known by Jean Baptiste Gilbert Julien in Boston (his restorator pictured below). A newspaper announced in July of 1793 that he had “established a HOTEL, in Leverett’s Lane, opposite the Quaker Meeting House, under the denomination of The RESTORATOR – by which it is to be understood a Resort where the infirm in health, the convalescent, and those whose attention to studious business occasions a lassitude of nature, can obtain the most suitable nourishment.”
The word restorator is an Anglicized version of the French word restaurateur. Restaurateur, in France of the late 18th century, meant an eating place where health-restoring soups (called “restaurants”) could be consumed. These were not just any kind of soups but what might almost be called liquid meat. M. Julien revealed in 1794 that he made his of “Good lean Beef, Veal and Fowls [and] Turtle flesh.”
Shortly after Julien began his restorator others did the same. Dorival & Deguise opened in Boston in 1796, promising to dress their victuals “in the American and French Modes.” They too furnished “Brown” and other soups. At the same time Claret & Mitchell opened a restorator in Charleston SC. By 1800 eating places calling themselves by this name were to be found in Philadelphia, Portsmouth NH, Salem MA, and Portland ME.
But very soon a variation, restorateur (also, less commonly, restaurator), began to crop up which more closely resembled the French word restaurateur, which also came into use then. The first mention of this I’ve found was in 1803, in Charleston, the State Coffee-House and Restaurateur Hotel. Meanwhile Boston clung to restorator, which appears occasionally as late as the 1860s.
Restaurateur soon began to take on a double meaning, applying both to a place and a profession, as in a somewhat ambiguous 1807 advertisement for “Charles Benoit, Restaurateur, who has moved to no. 1 Murray street [NYC], where he will run an Ordinary every day at 2 o’clock which he will keep ‘in the Parisien manner.’” By the 1830s restaurateur clearly denoted a profession.
One of the first uses of restaurant with reference to an eating place, if not the first, is on the occasion of the opening of Delmonico’s “Restaurant Francais” in 1831. I’ve also seen the word used to refer to eating places in New Orleans (1836), Washington (1838), and, amazingly enough even Boston (Ford’s Restaurant, 1843).
About the same time that the word restaurant was first adopted, another variation came into use minus the N: restaurat. The earliest use of this word I’ve seen is in 1821 in NYC, but also in New Orleans in 1837 (and 1863), Galveston in 1842, St. Louis in 1844, Houston in 1848 (and 1865), and San Antonio in 1853. Sometimes a period follows, suggesting the word might be an abbreviation for restaurateur. An encyclopedia published in NY in 1831 gives this explanation:
— Restaurateur, Fre., a cook, in France, who keeps victuals already dressed, to be served in the house or abroad, at the person’s request, of which he presents you a list for your choice, called carte du jour, a bill of fare.
— Restaurat, the house where the establishment of restaurateur is kept.
Was it because of restaurat’s ending – RAT — that restaurant won out?
© Jan Whitaker, 2010