The market places, street sellers, taverns and coffee houses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries evolved into eating houses, clubs, hotel and department store restaurants and tearooms by the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This fascinating transition from domestic to popular public dining is a hugely broad and often complex subject you can read about in detail in Dining With The Georgians, the paperback Georgian Kitchen and Dining With The Victorians.
Wealthy business men and men of society and science traded, debated and built the foundations of some of Britain’s biggest companies today, such as Lloyd’s of London in the Georgian coffee houses. It is understood the first coffee house opened its doors in Oxford around 1650, with London’s not far behind in 1652. Some sold tea and chocolate as well as the often obligatory alcohol like punch or arrack and light snacks. Some like King’s Coffee House owned by the disreputable Tom King and his wife Moll were more of a front for prostitution.
Gentleman’s Clubs like the Macaroni club and Beefsteak club became synonymous with food and dining and the famous White’s Club was born out of it’s coffee shop beginnings.’Eating Houses’ were like early restaurants and existed in many guises, perhaps one of the most interesting being the Alamode houses, serving the popular French dish of the Georgian age, Beef Alamode. One of the earliest references to the French term now embedded in British culture, ‘restaurant’ appears in the Morning Post for London in 1824 advertising a new coffee house and restaurant owned by a Mr J. Dubourg, declaring it to be in the ‘French style’.
Many of the country’s Taverns served food, from turtle soups to chops and beef-steaks and dishes under the well known label of ‘Ordinaries’. Ordinaries were popular places for people to eat in the continental style from a fixed price menu. Many Eating Houses dictated the amount of meat you could purchase based on its size and weight, enabling diners to eat at one guinea or two guineas ahead, often able to select their own meat from the spit over the fire.
Just as the French cooks serviced Britain’s wealthy estates, Clubs and public Eating Houses as well as going on to commission many of of the country’s first integral hotels, the Italian migrants established Confection and ice cream vendors, while the Germans built bakeries and the Jewish fried fish sellers inspired our national dish of fish and chips. Britain’s food heritage was born in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and it was born on the back of foreign influence, talent and finance.
As the Victorians took forward the industrious legacy of the Georgian age, mass production led to mass consumerism, new buildings, innovation, labour-saving technology and subsequent increased leisure time. Restaurants and public dining became fashionable for the wealthy sector of society and women left their grand houses to take tea and light lunches while shopping. Tea rooms and restaurants were incorporated into Hotels, Department stores, Museums and Galleries, high streets and village and town centres. The rise of the middle classes and new jobs at the forefront of industrialisation created a demand for places to dine on the way to work, before the great commute or during break times. By the Edwardian period you could find somewhere anywhere to dine or take tea. As early as the 1860s the Aerated Bread Company (ABC) were the first to manufacture baked products off site and to introduce techniques to ensure customers didn’t linger like the absence of newspapers and no smoking facilities. This secured the fast food culture we are so familiar with today.
You can read a great more in detail about this fascinating period in British culinary history in Dining With The Victorians. Discover how Britain’s commercial and political past with Empire, Trade and Exploration had provided the country with it’s obsession for curry, other Indian delicacies and Chinese cuisine by the end of the Victorian era.