The food service industry includes all types of establishments that prepare, supply, and serve food outside the home. This includes restaurants, carryout operations, cafeterias, school and college dining rooms, catering and vending companies, hotels and motels, and retirement centers.
Food service operations primarily serve food to their customers, but they also may provide entertainment, group accommodations, and other services. They range in size from modest neighborhood establishments to luxurious restaurants to nightclubs. Whatever their size, they pay careful attention to purchasing, preparing, and serving food, and many other activities that ensure they meet the expectations of their clientele.
Inns with food service and dining halls can be traced back to the Roman Empire. These establishments offered meals to travelers who stayed at the inn and may have provided meals to other guests as well.
With the development of roads and the increase in travelers abroad, such as pilgrimages to the Holy Land, the number of dining halls and inns increased throughout Europe and Asia. Places where one could stop to have a meal were founded in England in the 1500s. Taverns also functioned to provide travelers with food and drink.
Sometime during the 17th century, coffee was introduced in Europe from Turkey. The beverage became quite popular, and public establishments that specialized in coffee developed. The first coffeehouse is believed to have opened in Vienna in 1645. London had one by 1652. They became regular meeting places for local residents.
The origin of the term restaurant and the history of the modern eating establishment may be traced to France. In 1765, a Paris soup vendor, A. Boulanger, advertised restaurateurs, or restoratives, and offered choices from a menu of dishes at his modest establishment. Previously, inns and other public rooms had served paying guests, but Boulanger, the soup entrepreneur, is credited with making the restaurant the first public place where any person could choose from a menu listing a variety of food dishes.
When the French Revolution brought down the aristocratic houses, displaced kitchen staff members opened their own restaurants. Fine dining halls and restaurants flourished during the late 1700s, and by the early 1800s Paris had more than 500 restaurants.
In the United States, a cafeteria-style restaurant opened for gold miners during the 1849 gold rush in San Francisco. The cafeteria offered the miners an opportunity to choose food from the counter and pay for their meal before sitting down to eat.
By the beginning of the 1900s, the country's first diners had opened, as well as the precursors to fast food restaurants. Fast food offered quick service and a limited menu. In 1955, in Des Plaines, Illinois, the first McDonald's opened. McDonald's was to become the most extensive fast food franchise in the world.
The restaurant and food service industry is the largest employer in the private sector, and it continues to get larger every year. In 2020, the restaurant industry comprised more than 1 million locations and employed 15.6 million workers, according to the National Restaurant Association.