Q&A: Restaurateur vs restaurantuer

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Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we’re restau-ranting…

Q: Hello AWC, I’ve recently been helping out my friend Daniel who runs a restaurant. But I’m not sure what to call him.

A: How about “Danny”? Have you tried “Dazza” or maybe he’d prefer just plain “Dan”?

Q: You think you’re very funny don’t you?

A: Yes.

Q: What I MEANT was that I’ve seen owners referred to as both “restauranteurs” AND “restaurateurs”. The first makes more sense, but then why the version without the “N”?

A: Why indeed. And for that, just like striped tops, Asterix comics and nervous snails, you need to blame the French.

Q: I thought as much.

A: The word “restaurant” popped up in English in the early 1800s – a direct copy of the French word with origins in “restaurer” – meaning to restore or refresh.

Q: Like reheating leftovers in a microwave?

A: Haha, no not really. The word “restaurant” had actually been in French since the Middle Ages, meaning any kind of broth made with meat or herbs – also known as a “bouillon”.

Q: If you made a lot, would you become a bouillonaire?

A: No. Anyway, according to the Online Etymology boffins, a man named Boulanger opened a shop in Paris in the late 1700s selling “bouillons restaurants” – dishes to “restore a person’s strength”.

Q: I’m assuming this is leading somewhere.

A: It is. You see, he didn’t want to just sell broths. He wanted to offer other food too – even though it was against the guild law at the time. 

Q: Too many laws spoil the broth?

A: Quite. Luckily, his timing was spot on – as the French Revolution arrived, abolishing the old guild laws and letting anyone sell any food they wanted. 

Q: “Do you hear the people eat! Eating the food of angry men!”

A: That’s cute, but Les Misérables isn’t actually about the 1789 French Revolution; it’s about the 1832 Paris Uprising. A common misconception.

Q: You must be so much fun at dinner parties…

A: And restaurants too!

Q: So where were we? Ah yes. The concept of the “restaurant” was born. Which made Boulanger the first… what?

A: He was the first “restaurateur” – in French, the spelling followed the “restaurer” restoring origins. This word arrived in English in 1796.

Q: Wait… it arrived before “restaurant”?

A: Yep. 

Q: So I’m guessing once both were in use side by side, it didn’t take long for people to get lazy?

A: Bingo. It only took about 50 years before “restauranteur” – with an N – appeared in English. And because it’s now been around for so long, it’s an accepted variant spelling.

Q: But if you want to be correct, the word should really be a “restaurateur”, yes?

A: Yes. Eating at a “restaurat” may not make sense, but it’s proper dinner table manners to push the N to the side of your plate.

Q: What’s the deal with Frenchy words ending in “–eur” anyway? Entrepreneur, chauffeur, amateur, connoisseur, voyeur, grandeur…

A: As they’re French loan words, the clock froze when they came to English – so some translation has been lost. The suffix relates to describing the properties of feminine or masculine nouns – the easiest example here being “grandeur” – “the property of being grand”. But it’s all a bit vague.

Q: How very French.

A: Yes, you may need a striped top, glass of red and a few wistful looks into the middle distance to explain it properly.

Q: Quite a lot of restaurant terms come from French, don’t they?

A: You’re right. For an evening of fine “cuisine” (French for “kitchen” – from 1786) you might order an entrée (“entry” – from 1759) from the “a la carte” (“by the card” – from 1826) menu (“small detailed list” – 1837) and be wished “bon appétit” (“good appetite” – 1860) prior to your meal by the maitre d’ (short for “maitre d’hotel” or “house master” – the common shortened form dates back to 1942). 

Q: Wow, that’s quite the night out. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to watch the 2007 animated film, Ratatouille

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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