Q&A: Restaurateur vs restaurantuer

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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