When Restaurants Were Chic Soup Spas

The first restaurants were for fancy French people trying not to eat.

cartoon table with two empty chairs, flowers in the middle, and lightbulbs hanging
Credit: Shutterstock/D Peterschmidt

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In the 1760s, a new kind of establishment started popping up in Paris, catering to the French and fancy. These places had tables, menus, and servers. They even called themselves “restaurants,” and you might have too, were it not for one key difference: These restaurants were places you went not to eat. Well, not to chew anyway. Because they weren’t in the business of feeding their genteel clientele, but of soothing their frayed nerves—with premium medicinal soups. Soups which were also called “restaurants”!

In this episode: How restaurants evolved from a soup to a chic Parisian soup spa to the diverse, loved—and sorely missed—solid food eateries of today.


Rebecca Spang is a professor of history at Indiana University.

Stephani Robson is senior lecturer at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.

Footnotes & Further Reading:


Science Diction is hosted and produced by Johanna Mayer. Elah Feder is our editor and producer. We had story editing from Nathan Tobey. D Peterschmidt contributed sound design and wrote all our music, except the accordion piece which was by Dana Boulé and the final piece by Jazz at the Mladost Club. We had research help from Cosmo Bjorkenheim. Chris Wood mastered the episode, and we had fact checking by Michelle Harris. Special thanks to Gregg Rapp for talking to us about menu engineering. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.

Meet the Writers

About Johanna Mayer

Johanna Mayer is a podcast producer and hosted Science Diction from Science Friday. When she’s not working, she’s probably baking a fruit pie. Cherry’s her specialty, but she whips up a mean rhubarb streusel as well.

About Elah Feder

Elah Feder is the former senior producer for podcasts at Science Friday. She produced the Science Diction podcast, and co-hosted and produced the Undiscovered podcast.

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