UNITED STATES—Given that we are living in a modern day and age where most conveniences are readily available to us at the push of a button, it can be easy to assume that this is how things have always been. However, there is a clear history to all of the institutions that we rely on these days, and looking into this history can give us a newfound respect for how things managed to become the way that they are. History can teach us about the evolution of various things that we take for granted.
Even something as mundane as the furniture that is used in restaurants has been subject to evolution. You might think that restaurants are a relatively recent innovation, but the fact of the matter is that eating out has been a custom among numerous cultures since the time of antiquity. There was a practical need for outdoor dining establishments too, especially in environments that could be referred to as relatively urban at least from a contemporary standpoint. Hence, since restaurants have existed for so long, it stands to reason that their furniture underwent an evolution right alongside them too.
One major reason for why restaurants were necessary for humans throughout history was the fact that most dwellings were just not fire safe. While rural villages and the like often involved households cooking for themselves, in cities it was a lot more common for people to eat at restaurants because trying to cook at home would have been thoroughly unsafe due to a lack of modern cooking methods that we all use today. However, while restaurants certainly existed, it was unlikely that restaurant chairs were a part of them at least in the way that we would find relatively familiar.
Instead of chairs, restaurants of ancient history probably used something that was more along the lines of stools. These stools would have been made with a variety of materials, with stone in particular being a popular option in this regard. Stools were probably an innovation with all things considered, and they might have been predated by benches. Benches are definitely a lot easier to make from rocks since you can find a relatively large boulder and slowly break it down until it is of an appropriate size, and the leftover stone can be used in various kinds of construction as well.
The way that these restaurants were built involved a communal eating arrangement. They bore more similarities to modern cafeterias rather than restaurants in this respect. Hence, if you were to go to a restaurant in, say, Ancient Rome, the way that it would work would be that you would sit at a table with a bunch of other people that had already been sitting there and a server would come to you to ask what you would like to eat. If this sounds surprisingly modern to you, just remember that most of the things you consider to be so have actually been done for thousands of years.
The kinds of modern chairs that we use likely weren’t used in restaurants for a really long time, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist at all. It was just that the act of making a chair required quite a bit of artisanship and skill, so the use of chairs was mostly reserved for the upper class and royalty since they might have been the only ones that could afford to pay someone to make them a chair during those eras.
Upper class individuals likely didn’t go to restaurants either, mostly because they didn’t need to. Remember that during ancient history, people didn’t really think of restaurants as fancy alternatives to eating at home that they might have reserved for special occasions. Rather, they were necessities since they were the only places were commoners could grab a bite to eat. Going to a restaurant was likely a normal part of the day for the common folk, and this is mostly why the upper crust tended to avoid these kinds of establishments.
Basically, going to a restaurant was the sort of thing that you would do if you couldn’t afford a large home that made cooking possible. Nobles and royalty often had cooks at the very least that would serve them meals in large halls where all of the members of the household would dine together. The wealthier you were, the more people you might have had working in your kitchens at any given point in time.
Rich people during ancient history likely also avoided restaurants because of the fact that they didn’t want to rub shoulders with poor people. It’s quite strange to think that restaurants were considered lowbrow fare when nowadays there are so many restaurants that pride themselves on being able to provide an extremely high end experience. This just goes to show how people’s perceptions of things continued to change over the years, and this evolution is likely going to continue well into the future.
If you think the way that restaurants operate now is in any way an indication of how they would be perceived a few hundred years from now, you would be sorely mistaken. Eating at home was considered worthy only of nobility not too long ago, and commoners had to make do with whatever a local eatery was willing to sell to them. Now, being able to go to a restaurant is a sign of having excess disposable income, and people tend to cook and eat meals at home to save money. It is highly probably that future generations will look back on how we perceived restaurants and scratch their heads as well.