restaurants and refectories

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sat Dec 22 14:49:30 UTC 2007

I think that the folks at the OED are probably working on the entry for "restaurant" right now.  Here are some notes.

By the 1820s, NYC had become almost civilized, and there were even some places that served meals but were just too gosh-darned respectable to be called "eating houses".

The first solution was to call such joints "refectories".  The current OED defines "refectory" only as "A room for refreshment; esp. in religious houses and colleges, the hall or chamber in which the meals take place".

1821:   TO THE PUBLIC.  WE, the subscribers, beg leave to inform the public that having renewed our lease at the well known Refectory No. 39 Reed street, and having provided ourselves with a frost chest, we are enabled to furnish the delicacies of the season in the best style, viz.
        Chickens, Steakes, Cutlets, Pickled Oysters, and tongues, &c. and Mock Turtle soup of a superior quality, will be furnished daily throughout the season.  Liquors of the first quality will be furnished at the bar.  Also, the best of Madeira, Port and Claret Wines.  ***  DECOUSSE & Morse.
        Evening Post, June 12, 1821, p. 3, col. ?  (I notice that the OED doesn't have "frost chest" at all.)

1821:   DECOUSSE & MORSE return thanks to their patrons for the kindness and encouragement they have experienced in business, and beg to inform them and the public, that in addition to the establishment in Reed street, they have opened a Refectory at No. 7 Chatham row, west of Longworth’s, and within four or five doors of the New Theatre, where they hope to meet a continuance of that support which they will ever be happy to merit.
        Evening Post, September 3, 1821, p. 3, col. ?

1822:   [a long letter complaining of misspellings in signs: ceaks (cakes), cichen (kitchen), iorning (ironing); also: "now our oyster cellars and eating shops are dignified with the title of Refectory"]
        Commercial Advertiser, December 21, 1822, p. 2, cols. 1-2

1824:   FIVE DOLLARS REWARD.  STOLEN from the privy of Morse's Refectory, 31 Park, [a watch and chain].
        National Advocate, April 28, 1824, p. 2, col. 7

Later, the word "restaurant came into use.  The OED has 1827 & 1835, from U. S. sources.  Here's more.  The cite from December of 1841 shows that the word was thought of as pretentious; compare the Commercial Advertiser, December 21, 1822 on "refectory".

1837:   Shin Plasters.  --  A great number of these substitutes for small change, issued from hotels and restaurants, are in circulation.
        New York Times, May 26, 1837, p. 2, col. 5 [not the present NYTimes, first published in 1851]

1841:   Pinteux's Caffe. -- Of late years Restaurants and Caffes on the Parisian plan, have greatly multiplied in our city. . . .  [Pinteux's is on Broadway, near the Hospital]
        Morning Courier & New York Enquirer, July 31, 1841, p. 2, col. 3

1841:   And then the counsel "headed me," as the phrase now is, and brought a French witness to turn my plain English "oyster cellar" into a "restaurant."
        New York Herald, December 11, 1841, p. 2, col. 4  [remarks by a lawyer in a suit involving a Spaniard who ran an oyster cellar, against a Frenchman]

OED has 1801, 1804 and 1830 for a "restaurateur" as "a restaurant".  I think these citations refer to France.  Here is is, naturalized:

1837:   New York, too, has her hotels, her restaurateurs, her pavilions, and her arcades -- her refectories, her confectories, and her infectories, upon a most munificent scale -- besides her club houses, her lodging houses, her watch houses, and above all her fashionable boarding houses -- the latter being notorious for two unrivalled qualifications, viz: high rates and low fare.
        New York Daily Express, June 22, 1837, p. 2, col. 5.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

The American Dialect Society -

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