Restaurant-ing Through History
November 24, 2022 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Short little essays about little-known facets of American restaurant history. Including such gems as: The Public Natatorium, Milwaukee's only dolphin-equipped restaurant (how could it fail?) And...

Black waiters, white restaurants

The controversy around sugar packets on the table.

When did we begin to assume that restaurants would have restrooms -- even women's restrooms?

Looks like a fillet, fries like a fillet -- everything can be breaded.

And many more essays by Jan Whitaker about the history of fine dining, fast food, food service, industrial food, airline dinners, department store restaurants, and margin-boosting reconstituted fish fillets.

Previously on Metafilter, Whitaker's Archeology of Taste and article on Alice's Restaurant.
posted by Hypatia (9 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
This relevant to my day to to day life.
posted by vrakatar at 7:53 PM on November 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

There was another Crystal Pool Natatorium in Seattle which could double as a dancehall when the pool was lidded. Until the Bethany Baptist Church bought the building and put the kibosh to both those uses. Its terra cotta facade now wraps the base of the Cristalla apartment tower.
posted by y2karl at 8:32 PM on November 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Small world; my friend's father worked for John Garlic's Milwaukee restaurant empire in this time period, and wrote a fascinating oral history that we published in our zine 15 or so years ago(!), involving cocaine, firearms, and other seedy 70's intrigue. Unfortunately I don't have a digital copy readily available or I would share.
posted by brightghost at 10:01 PM on November 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

OMG. I thought I dreamed this! I am pretty sure my parents took me here. Seriously, I thought I made it up. Maybe I just heard of it and didn't know it was a real thing and imagined being there? I have a vague memory of a dream (so I thought) of going to see dolphins in a restaurant. I would have been a toddler-to-preschooler when this was open.

I'm surprised I never heard of this before as a Milwaukee native. (The weird dream-memory not withstanding.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:19 AM on November 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

On sugar packets: I haven't waited tables since the pandemic began but as recently as 2020 restaurants were absolutely still offering a plethora of sugar packets. Unless you're at the type of restaurant that never keeps sugar on the table and only brings out a few packets with tea/coffee orders.

The last place I served at considered itself an upscale-ish diner and we had sugar caddies filled with:

Sugar in the raw (always sounded like the name of an adult film to me)
Sweet n low

And then we also got Splenda because customers requested a fifth sweetener option. Stocking and cleaning out (some diners like to neatly tuck their empty often also wet packets back into the caddy among the fresh unused packets why lord why) the sugar caddies was my least favorite side work task. I invented a whole new world of jam organization and cleaned the coolers religiously in order to avoid sugar duty.

Recipe for I Hate My Server Lemonade as taught to me over the years by some interesting customers:

1. Ask server for lemon slices.
2. Use lemons and ALL of the sugars to mix up some home style lemonade in your water glass.
3. Ask server for more sugars and more lemons and more water. Use clear language like "ugh I need more just bring me a whole sliced lemon next time". Scatter empty sugar packets all over the table. Ditto lemon rinds. Make sure to toss a couple on the floor too.
4. Repeat step 3 throughout your meal.
5. Never say please or thank you.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 8:42 AM on November 25, 2022 [7 favorites]

jam organization

I wonder what it would be like to work at a jam organization?
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:47 PM on November 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

I bet Eddie Izzard knows...
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:06 PM on November 25, 2022


I also love her headshot for her blog.
posted by porpoise at 3:25 PM on November 25, 2022

I've been reading her for years. Fascinating social history
posted by Sassenach at 5:31 PM on November 25, 2022

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