• Rose Smith

Food on the Go: The History of Takeout


Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Takeout and delivery is a large part of our restaurant consumption. In 2016, researchers found that on a given day, 6% of American families ordered takeout on average (Time). While there are certainly modern innovations to Takeout such as Grubhub or DoorDash, the concept of takeout eating is nowhere new.

Takeout has been around since ancient times. For instance, in Roman times, there were takeout restaurants called Thermopoliums (with the singular restaurant referred to as a Thermopolia) situated near bath houses. Thermopoliums were an essential part of Roman city life (Food Timeline). They were often stocked with cold or warm wine, bread, cakes made of chickpeas, and other foods. There would be a small seating area, but many citizens would take their food to go. All classes, even emperors, were patrons of these establishments. Plenty of other ancient countries had their own versions of fast food vending, including the Aztecs, Greeks, and Chinese (History of Fast Food).

In the United States, the first instance of takeout dinners were provided by Colonial hotels, where families could buy foods for takeout off the menu (Time). At first, most takeout meals were were made and sold sold to hungry travelers passing through. In the early 1900s, takeout became more popular among working people in cities. Because of industrialization, people were working farther from home, but they still wanted to enjoy a warm meal. In cities like New York City, one could get steamed or fried seafood to go. For instance, one could get “Scallops Fry in a Box” for only 25 cents a box. The first known print advertisement for takeout food was from the Chinese restaurant Kin-Chu Cafe in Los Angeles which advertised itself as “the only place on the West Coast making and delivering real Chinese dishes” (History). While pizza is currently the most popular takeout food, the earliest known takeout advertisement for pizza was not released until the 1950s about 30 years later (Food Timeline, Statista).

Takeout began to really take off during the 1950s (History). American families experienced a higher level of prosperity relative to the Great Depression and World War II. During this decade, televisions were also starting to become a household staple. Because families were spending more time at home watching television, restaurants were seeing their profits decline drastically. To combat this, restaurants started advertising takeout options. The restaurants that did provide a takeout menu saw a 20-50% rise in revenue. By the end of the decade, one could find an advertisement for takeout in almost every menu.

Takeout continues to evolve to this day. The Nineties saw the rise in online restaurant dining. The first online food order was for a pizza from Pizza Hut in 1994. Waiter.com (also called World Wide Waiter) became the first online food ordering business in 1995 (Huffington Post, New York Times). Today, we have plenty of delivery apps at our disposal and plenty of restaurants to choose from. It will be interesting to see how the takeout industry evolves overtime. One thing does seem to stay the same though—there always seems to be a market somewhere for a warm, cooked meal to go.