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What were the very first restaurants like?

The first restaurant opened in Paris in 1767 on the rue des Poulies. By 1789, as the Revolution arose, restaurants were, by all accounts, very much like what we know today. Unfortunately, some very confident statements about the first restaurants seem to be based on these later places, with only the most cursory reference to the restaurants which first opened as “restorers” selling “restaurants”. In fact, we know very little about the very first restaurants, most of it based on one passage from Diderot and several surviving ads from the first restaurant and its immediate imitators. These outline something significantly different from what would exist two decades later. The purpose here is to try and bring that slim information into focus; that is, to understand just what the first restaurants were.

At least two of these had already been open for months when, on September 8, 1767, Diderot wrote to his mistress: “I left there to go dine at the restaurateur's [that is, the ‘restorer&…

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