Being in the Business of Hospitality, You Need to Know Its History. Here’s Our Brief History of the Hospitality Industry!
The English word restaurant is borrowed from the French ‘restaurer,’ a verb which means to restore or renew. Legend has it that in 1765, in Paris, one Monsieur Boulanger put a sign over his shop selling “restaurants” or restoratives; they were soups and broth. He sold other food items as well and has been credited with having the first restaurant as we would know it today.
The legend may be just that, but the sentiment of being restored or renewed over a shared meal remains one of the hallmarks of our existence as social beings.
Our word, hospitality, is derived from the Latin word, ‘hospes,’ which oddly means both host and guest; or visitor and stranger. What does this mean? How can they be one and the same? I believe it implies an inextricable bond between those who seek hospitality and those who are drawn to provide hospitality. After all, you can’t be a host without having a guest, and almost all visitors were strangers at some point.
Hospitality began with taking care of travelers and visitors, and while our industry has gone through many changes over the centuries—that part has never changed. Let’s do a quick dive into the history of hospitality to learn the foundational values of our occupation.
Restaurants Grow Into the Fabric of Modern Society
From the humble beginnings of M. Boulanger in eighteenth-century Paris, the restaurant became an indispensable part of modern society. Still, less for entertainment or leisure as is seen today, and more for practical purposes. Many city dwellers lived in rooming houses, boarding houses, or tenements at the start of the twentieth century. This was especially true for the immigrant populations in American cities along the eastern seaboard.
More restaurants, butcher shops, markets, bodegas, and delis began to appear. These familiar establishments were there to care for and provide a community to the neighborhoods and districts where people lived.
Restaurants become the ‘Third Place.’ Somewhere that wasn’t home (First Place), or work (Second Place.) A separate (Third Place), where a person could commune, relax, feel comfortable, and be treated well, refreshed, and renewed.
Cleanliness Becomes a Virtue
Over time, the restaurant and other hospitality industries changed dramatically. Often due to crisis or upheaval— think revolutions, wars, and pandemics such as the Spanish Flu.
Prior to that devastating global pandemic, restaurants were mostly ‘Mom and Pop’ affairs, literally. Being such, sanitation measures we see today were not common place.
Post-pandemic, the industry underwent a series of changes, mainly improving cleanliness. Many practices we still see today like health inspections, glass covers for displaying food, the use of white tile, the invention of the dixie cup, and dishwashing with soap and scalding hot water all stem from this era.
A good example of these changes can be seen in 1921, when the first chain restaurant in the country, White Castle, was founded. The name was chosen not to mimic any fairy tale or storyline. The founders wanted to emphasize how clean and sanitary their restaurants were.
Restaurants Expand With Globalization
Fast forward 30 years, post World War II, many of our armed forces, both men and women, were returning home from all parts of the globe. A large population now had exposure to other places, other people, other foods, and other cultures.
The vast majority of those returning were not immigrants but children or grandchildren of immigrants. This, combined with the prosperity and coming fascination with the car and travel would lead to an explosion in hotels, motels, restaurants, and nightclubs. Hospitality once again expanded both in scope and scale.
Restaurants took on new looks and modern amenities such as adjoined lounges and drive-throughs. You could even order take-out or delivery — especially if you wanted pizza or Chinese food.
Restaurants of the 21st Century
Moving into the 21st century, leisure, hospitality and retail became the largest employment sector in the country. Optimism for the future was bullish. Restaurant and hotel expansion plans gobbled up space, extending leases, and opening new outposts— some mere blocks from existing properties like that one Starbucks right across the street from that other Starbucks. After all, our industry had survived global changes for centuries and always came out stronger.
In recent times we have survived the dot.com crisis of the 1990s, the Great Recession of 2008, increasing minimum wages, increased regulation, shifting demographics, and of course, most recently— COVID-19. Still, we grow.
As we move forward in this most recent challenging and influential time, it’s up to us to make sure our industry comes out stronger and better.