What were restaurants like in the early 1900s?


More and more of our meals are eaten out of the home, many at a sit-down restaurant. We tend to take the amenities of modern restaurants for granted. City and state ordinances protect us from unscrupulous entrepreneurs and unsanitary kitchens, and we can usually expect a similar experience - if not similar foods - at almost every eatery. But our expectations differ from those of restaurant patrons in the past, says NPR. You can find out how US restaurants have changed in the past century by taking their quiz on what restaurants were like 100 years ago.

The quiz is based in large part on the book Repast by Michael Lesy and Lisa Stoffer. Stoffer comes from a family of chefs and Lesy (her husband) is a professor at Hampshire College. The couple was inspired to write Repast after discovering an archive of old menus held by the New York Public Library.

Most of the differences involve changing cultural norms. For instance, while men and women can now walk into any restaurant together, in times past some restaurants separate entrances for women or were closed to unaccompanied female diners after a certain time. Other changes have to do with culinary changes driven by diner preferences, like the decline in popularity of German foods, which were all the rage in the early 1900s. Who knew that frankfurters and potato salad were once considered exotic foods in the US?

While many of the practices have changed over the years, some things remain the same, like low wages for waitstaff. Restaurateurs of yore used several mechanisms in order to drive down labor costs, replacing men with women and people of color who were paid much less.  

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