It can be quite astonishing to see how mundane items can end up telling you a lot about the world. There is a decent chance that you don’t think too much about things like booths in restaurants. After all, they serve a pretty specific purpose and the only thing that seems to cross people’s minds about them is whether or not they are functional, to begin with.
Would you like a table or a booth?
For the most part, booths tend to do well in restaurant settings. Not only do they provide comfort but they also manage to facilitate a familial, cozy vibe. You might not consider the history of restaurant booths to be all that interesting a topic, but as we have mentioned before cultivating a bit of inquisitiveness can make normal things seem utterly miraculous.
As far as booths are concerned, their history is quite closely linked to the history of the United States. The culture developed in the US is quite distinct from anything seen in any other country. This is partly because of the fact that so many different people from a vast array of cultures came to this country, and they brought their culture along with them. That said, the primary cultural blueprint that America followed, at least during its first century of existence or so, was British.
These origins involve a style of seating that started to become popular in England which was known as box seating, and it is actually fairly similar to booth seating although the latter tends to offer more comfort than the former.
The fact that booths originated in the 18th century might come as a surprise to many people due to the reason that they are most closely associated with the early to mid 20th century. While the period between the 1920s to the 1960s definitely represents the heyday of booths in eateries and other such establishments, their origins are a little more endemic to the very concept of restaurants.
For a long time, outdoor eateries mostly just sold food that people could take with them. The middle ages brought about the existence of taverns that offered room and board, and this is where the first eateries were established that allowed people to eat and dine.
Things changed rapidly after that and in 18th century France the concept of an eatery that allowed diners to sit down and enjoy their meal rather than having to take it home with them became extremely popular going so far as to spread all around the world.
In these new restaurants, patrons still wanted a bit of the privacy that they got from the taverns of old. This lead to the creation of boxed seating where customers could sit facing one another in two rows of seats, and a development that occurred after this was that curtains were put in.
Customers could draw these curtains whenever they wanted a bit more privacy. A lot of people these days might think that this idea is quite outstanding since who wouldn’t like to dine in a very private booth with a curtain drawn?
However, back in the 19th century, particularly in the rather puritanical United States, suspicions arose over what people might get up to when they have the curtains drawn. This resulted in curtained box seating being banned, and a more traditional table arrangement started to be preferred.
With America becoming an increasingly luxurious country in the latter half of the 19th century, dining on tables became more popular due to its more glamorous connotations as well.
A growing puritan movement led to the prohibition of alcohol in the United States in the 1920s, and this culmination of decades of activism is ironically what allowed the booths to come back. Once prohibition was passed, the puritans of previous generations began to ease into their lives and the subsequent generation found that they did not have the same aversion to booths as their parents did.
This combined with social events of the subsequent decades allowed booths to come back into fashion, and they managed to become a key component of eating out during the years when America made a reputation for itself as a global powerhouse.
Now that booths are popular once again, we’re just waiting for curtained box seating to make a comeback as well!