While public eateries existed in Ancient Rome and Sung Dynasty China, restaurants (we know them today), are generally credited to 18th century France. The genesis is quite interesting and not at all what most people expect. Did you know the word restaurant is derived from the French word restaurer which means to restore? The first French restaurants [pre-revolution] werenot fancy gourmet establishments run by ex-aristocratic chefs. They were highly regulated establishments that sold restaurants (meat based consommes intended to "restore" a person's strength) to people who were not feeling well. Cook-caterers (traiteurs) also served hungry patrons. The history of these two professions is historically connected and often difficult to distinguish.
According to thecurrent edition of Larousse Gastronomque (p. 194-5), the first cafes (generally defined as places selling drinks and snacks) was established in Constantinople in 1550. It was a coffee house, hence the word "cafe." Cafes were places educated people went to share ideas and new discoveries. Patrons spent several hours in these establishments in one "sitting." This trend caught on in Europe on the 17thcentury. When cafes opened in France they also sold brandy, sweetened wines and liqueurs in addition to coffee. The first modern-type cafe was the Cafe Procope which opened in 1696.
The French Revolution launched the modern the restaurant industry. It relaxed the legal rights of guilds that [since the Middle Ages] were licensed by the king to control specific foods [eg. the Patissiers,Rotisseurs, Charcutiers] and created a hungry, middle-class customer base who relished the ideals of egalitarianism (as in, anyone who could pay the price could get the same meal). Entrepreneurial French chefs were quick to capitalize on this market. Menus, offering dishes individually portioned, priced and prepared to order, were introduced to the public for the first time.
Who started the firstrestaurant?
There are (at least) three theories:
1. Boulanger, 1765
"In about 1765, a Parisian 'bouillon seller' named Boulanger wrote on his sign: 'Boulanger sells restoratives fit for the gods'...This was the first restaurant in the modern sense of the term."
---Larousse Gastronomiqe, completely revised and updated [Clarkson Potter:New York] 1999 (p. 978)
2. Mathurin Roze de Chantoiseau in Paris,1766
"According to Spang, the forgotten inventor was Mathurin Roze de Chantoiseau, a figure so perfectly emblematic of his time that he almost seems like an invention himself. The son of a landowner and merchant, Roze moved to Paris in the early 1760s and began floating a variety of schemes he believed would enrich him and his country at the same time."http://dir.salon.com/books/review/2000/03/24/spang/index.html
3. Beauvilliers, 1782
"However, the first Parisian restaurant worthy of the name was the one founded by Beauvilliers in 1782 in the Rue de Richelieu, called the Grande Taverne de Londres. He introduced the novelty of listing the dishes available on a menu and serving them at small individual tables during fixed hours."
---Larousse Gastronomique, (p. 978)
About restaurants"...France was the birthplace of what we now call the restaurant...this happened toward the end of the eighteenth century. With the exception of inns, which were primarily for travelers, and street kitchens...where in Europe at that time could one purchase a meal outside the home? Essentially in places where alcoholic begerages were sold, placesewquipped to serve simple, inexepensive dishes eithercooked on the premises or ordered from a nearby inn or food shop, along with wine, beer, and spirits, which constituted the bulk of their business. Such tavern-restaurants existed not only in France but also in other countries. In Germany, Austria, and Alsace, Brauereien and Weinstuben served delicatessen, sauerkraut, and cheese, for example; in Spain bodegas served tapas. Greek taverns served...