Restaurant Ownership: The Longest Standing Business Venture
Restaurants haven’t always had the amenities we enjoy today, but throughout human history, there is one thing that binds us all together. Long before all the table trivia games, online ordering systems, and even shift scheduling software, humans of all eras were drawn to communal eating experiences that they wouldn’t have to prepare themselves.
The word “thermopolium” is probably not one you’re familiar with nowadays, but in today’s modern world, it’s impossible to walk several blocks without running into one. Today we just call them by their name: McDonald’s, Subway, Chili’s, and so many more “restaurants” that are available for us to eat somewhere other than our own home. Who want’s to dirty their kitchen if they don’t have to anyway?
People have wanted to keep their own kitchens clean by eating out since as far as ancient Roman times. A thermopolium was to ancient Roman’s what Burger King (with alcohol) is to American’s today. The word thermopolium literally is translated to “a place where (something) hot is sold”. Citizens of Rome would walk to their local thermopolium and eat cheese laced with honey and spices. They would also be able to order lentil soups and mulled wine.
Rather than dealing with the fuss that modern day waiters deal with, it is believed that these ancient places did not have menus. Instead, the customers ate whatever the cook had made that day. History also shows that lower class Roman citizens mostly used these fast food options because they didn’t have access to their own private kitchens, and so thermopolia were also known as places where customers could get a little feisty.
A little closer to today’s modern restaurants were the eateries in China circa 1123. Marco Polo wrote about his visit to the city of Hangzhou; home to more than a million people in Eastern China. Unlike the thermopolia in Rome, customers in China were given a menu to order from. Marco Polo wrote of delicacies like silkworm pie, bean curd soup, and pork stuffed dumplings. In the city, Marco Polo talked of many shops and street vendors. The streets lined with many taverns, teashops, rice wine vendors, and tents with chefs and business owners.
The world has probably never been without individuals looking to get out of cleaning their own kitchens. As a restaurant owner, you can always take heart in the fact that you’re part of a long line of hard working individuals in the history of restaurant ownership. And even in the modern age of meals in a box, customers still love a delicious warm meal in a sit down restaurant. Who knows? Perhaps restaurant ownership is one of the longest standing entrepreneurial business ventures of all time. And forcing customers to eat whatever the cook prepared is probably one of the least talked about innovations that the Romans created.