Beyond Fast-food Chains: The History of the Restaurant Industry in the U.S.

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Dining out is one of the most favorite pastimes in the American food culture. Restaurant dining has become a common experience to relish a variety of meals and flavors. What began as fine dining establishments for the wealthy transformed into hundreds of fast food chains and casual family dining establishments.

Along with its continued patronage, restaurants have transformed dramatically over the years. Digital innovations have rocked the restaurant industry to make running a food business more profitable, faster, and easier. It also involves the rise of big manufacturers, such as Lakeside Manufacturing, offering food service equipment and solutions. This led restaurants to gain access to quality equipment that is on par with other competitors.

With these in mind, we will look at the restaurant history in the U.S. and how the industry evolved from the early days of American history up to the present.

Early American restaurants

In the early days, entrepreneurs built the first restaurants out of necessity, building them in pubs and guest houses. These establishments are all over frontier towns that offer food and lodging to male workers. Diners rarely had choices for their meals, as the head of the house often cooks the same food for the family and guests.

By the late 19th century, upper-class nobles from France and England popularized the art of fine dining, involving the use of white tablecloths and fine china. Diners can choose their meals from a real menu and eat at private tables while the wait staff in tuxedos bring their orders.

As more migrant workers and immigrants arrived in America, the lineup of meals and flavors became more diverse. It was also the time when women started working as servers and dishwashers to replace men who were fighting at war.

In the early 20th century, Chinese-American cuisine became a part of fine dining menus. While immigration laws made it difficult for the Chinese to travel to America, they discovered a way by starting their own restaurants in the U.S. as restaurateurs.

Besides the Chinese, even Mexican refugees and Italian immigrants sought haven in the U.S. While they stayed in America, they found an opportunity to introduce their cuisines and start a business. Mexicans began selling enchiladas and tacos while the Italians brought their popular recipes from Italy.

Fast food franchises

fast food

By the mid-20th century, the American food culture encountered a sudden shift as franchise restaurants, and fast-food establishments began to rise. This trend led to the beginning of a cultural transformation in dining.

As millions of Americans dine in fast food establishments, it became easy to hire staff, and the job became easier as fast-food chains use the assembly-line style to prepare food faster. It also opened up more job opportunities for young adults, low-skilled workers, and other ethnicities.

Along with the popularity of the fast food industry, it also paved the way for the rise of food chains and franchise restaurants. These establishments are now known as chain restaurants, such as McDonald’s, which you can find in any main street in America along with other popular chains.

Realizing how the fast-food chain industry can make fast and cheap food, many business owners became interested in establishing their own fast-food restaurants. These include Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Pizza Hut, and more.

By the 1990s, women joined the workforce, and more Americans have been working harder and longer. These changes in the workforce resulted in a shift in the restaurant industry and eating habits. Families no longer eat together in chain restaurants, and more people choose to eat alone at casual dining establishments.

Olive Green and Applebee’s were one of the first casual dining restaurants to hit the scene. These establishments are a step above fast-food chains that cater to middle-class families with working parents. As the name goes, casual dining restaurants allow diners to eat in a casual atmosphere while offering well-priced meals.

Modern restaurants

Today, modern restaurants are now focusing on the overall experience of dining and the aesthetic qualities of their establishments. Décor has become more important than it once was, driving more restaurants to develop unique styles reflected in their food presentation and decorations.

Aside from decors, restaurant owners and staff can now decide on the image they want to project to their customers. This is evident in the type of clothing they wear, such as colorful jumpsuits and personalized aprons.

Amidst the brutally competitive industry, restaurants have stood the test of time by becoming one of the most successful industries today. These establishments have truly changed the American food culture by becoming a vital force in everyday urban life.

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