Restaurant Week: The Rise of the Restaurant

One of South Carolina’s newer events is Restaurant Week: a state-wide event held over eleven days that showcases the distinct and exciting restaurant scenes found across the state.  As participating restaurants offer special deals during this time, attendees have the opportunity to try new food spots and revisit old favorites.  In celebration of Restaurant Week, SCDNP takes a look at the culinary scene of South Carolina’s past as seen through historic newspapers.  In the first installment, SCDNP explores the history of the restaurant and highlights some located in the state’s capital city.

Although the concept of a “restaurant” seems commonplace in today’s society, this idea originated not too long ago.  For most of history, the thought of eating at an establishment outside of one’s home was typically reserved for travelers; and even then, most people of any wealth often took servants with them to prepare food wherever they stopped, or they stayed and dined with friends and family along the way.  The establishments closest to resembling today’s restaurants originated in France in the mid-1700’s along with the actual term “restaurant.”  While these places appealed mostly to wealthy clientele in the beginning, they established many practices still seen today including a public dining room and a menu offering a choice of meals and beverages.

An advertisement for Congaree Restaurant in The Daily Phoenix (Columbia, S.C.), November 24, 1866

The trend of the restaurant quickly made its way to America with early prevalence in cities of high populations.  Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, transportation became more accessible and customary thanks to steamships, railways, and eventually automobiles.  These advancements not only changed the way people traveled, but increased the need for dining establishments as eating away from home turned into an experience rather than a necessity. By the 19th century, the term “restaurant” had become a word in the average person’s vocabulary.

Our House Restaurant advertisement, The Daily Phoenix (Columbia, S.C.), November 10, 1868

Advertisement for Stork’s Restaurant, The Daily Phoenix (Columbia, S.C.), February 07, 1873

Columbia, South Carolina was certainly not immune to the rise of the restaurant. Newspaper advertisements for restaurants in the capital city pop up all throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Some restaurants stood alone while many were attached to other businesses, such as markets and groceries.  Still others operated within the confines of a hotel, attracting both local eaters and traveling guests staying overnight.

One would typically find a restaurant’s menu to be no more than a page of dishes that varied on a daily basis because of the accessibility and use of primarily fresh, locally grown ingredients.  Some restaurants, such as the Pollock House, utilized Columbia’s daily newspaper, The Daily Phoenix, to advertise its menu for the day in each issue.  Many independently owned restaurants of today carry on this tradition, using local produce and meats to create daily menus.

The menu for Pollock House in The Daily Phoenix (Columbia, S.C.) on Tuesday, November 27, 1866

The menu for Pollock House in The Daily Phoenix (Columbia, S.C.) on Wednesday, November 28, 1866

Browse through newspapers from South Carolina and other states in Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers to find advertisements and daily menus of restaurants.

Stay tuned throughout the next week as SCDNP explores the advertisements of restaurants in other parts of the state as well as looks in-depth at the Wheeler House, a popular hotel and restaurant in downtown Columbia.  In the meantime, be sure to check out Restaurant Week.

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