It is frequently said that the first restaurant, by that name, was opened in in 1765 by Parisian soup maker M. Boulanger. His was the first establishment to offer a menu with a choice of dishes. Nothing is known about M. Boulanger (some say A. Boulanger), and this may not be his name, but simply his occupation (boulanger means baker).
There were other cultures that had what could be called restaurants much earlier then this. The general belief that Boulanger’s was the first restaurant, refers to western culture, and even with that qualification, it is a debatable point. More on this subject will follow in future updates.
September, 2008 -
The following is an Email from Chef Thomas L. Bruns with some additional insight.
Boulanger was a crafty fellow. Back in those days, if you were owned a shop or were a street vendor, you had to belong to a guild. There were tons of guilds: Breadmaker's Guild, Pastry Guild, Roaster's Guild, Winemaker's Guild, etc.
Boulanger wanted his shop, but he couldn't afford the dues that were openly demanded by guilds. And then he hit upon it. There was no Soupmaker's Guild. So his main offering was a soup made from sheep hooves. He claimed that the soup had restorative properties, hence the sign Restaurant (from "restaurer" meaning "restore") in his window.
Think about that for a moment. Our entire professional working area (the restaurant) stems from a con artist looking to avoid paying a bill.