In the middle of thousands of people rioting, cutting people’s heads off, and generally being destructive, other people were sitting down to tables and being served food.
Today’s restaurant business started from the class warfare of the French Revolution, when anyone of any class who had enough to pay for food, could sit down at individual tables and choose from a menu. This was a new idea, since the only thing closest to a restaurant before the 1780’s were taverns or inns, where strangers crowded around buffets that offered a half-satisfactory and often cold meal.
But then, sometime in the 1760’s, some merchants in Paris thought it would be a great idea to serve healthy light broths known as restoratives, or restaurants. These small bowls of soup for reviving people (if I lived in cramped, filthy Paris at that time, I’d need reviving too) gradually increased to a small meal, and then to a variety of dishes one could choose from in a reputable dining hall in quiet and comfort.
What is so ironic about the whole thing though, is that at the time of the Revolution, the average citizen couldn’t even afford bread, let alone a sit down meal. But because the aristocrats left all their chefs and wine cellars behind them when they tried to escape the country, those unemployed cooks and abandoned bottles found their way to the restaurants. Within a year, 50 elegant eateries were founded in and around Paris that catered to the new citizens of France. As the fame of these restaurants spread, they quickly became an attraction for the British across the Channel and surrounding countries.
Even when the Reign of Terror began in 1793-94, when Madame Guillotine was in her most intense period, the restaurant business was still popular, and was considered a safe haven for patrons. Most people felt safe enough to joke about Robespierre, the man behind the Reign of Terror, which was a very risky joke topic at the time.
When Napoleon Bonaparte took over France in the early 1800’s, the eateries were making a major profit. Napoleon took advantage of that fact, and urged people to frequent the restaurants, knowing that those who focused on pleasing their stomachs wouldn’t conspire against him. As the years progressed, eating at restaurants became not only a luxury, but an entertainment as well. Singers, music, and dancers entertained diners in the most expensive places, and Frenchmen, who often couldn’t afford the extravagance, ate on silver cutlery, which often went into their pockets after being used. So in less than a century, the light broth that people could sip to refresh themselves turned into a whole business that would spread across the world, serving millions of people each year.