The Reason Restaurateur Is 'Missing' A Letter

The English language can be very confusing, and this is especially true when it comes to using (or misusing) words or phrases borrowed from another language. For some reason, French loan words seem to give us particular trouble. For example, as Professor Paul Brians of Washington State University points out, the word "amateur" is often misspelled as "amature." Yet another common error listed on the professor's website is made by those who confuse the terms "protégé" and "prodigy." The former is someone you've taken under your wing, but the latter is someone extraordinary, and only in rare instances are they likely to be one and the same.

As anyone who browses online recipes and tutorials is probably aware, there are more than a few people who seem to be under the impression that "voilà" should be spelled "wallah." (As per Brians' site, the word "wallah" is actually Hindi for "worker.") One understandably misspelled word from the food world describes somebody who owns or operates a restaurant. That word is obviously "restauranteur," right? Well yes, it would be, were "restauranteur" an actual word, but it isn't. The word you really want is "restaurateur," spelled without an "n."

The 'n' was never meant to be part of the word

So why is there no "n" in "restaurateur," anyway? Is it meant to be some sort of simplification? Well, no. It seems that the term "restaurateur" actually predates the concept of restaurants as we now know them. According to Michael Quinion of World Wide Words, the etymologically correct reason to omit the "n" is that the word "restaurateur" (as well as the word "restaurant") derives from the French "restaurer," which itself comes from the Latin "restaurare." Restaurer is a verb, and as its English language cognate implies, has the meaning "to restore."

In the Middle Ages, the word "restaurant" was used as an adjective with the meaning "restorative" and was applied to various types of foods or beverages meant to perk you up or heal what ails you. It later evolved into a noun and was at one time applied specifically to a type of meat broth. Eventually, the word came to mean a place where one could obtain said broth. "Restaurateur," on the other hand, meant "one who repairs," and while a restaurateur could originally be someone who fixed clocks or set broken arms, the title later designated a purveyor of the aforementioned restorative soup. Over time, "restaurants" came to mean establishments selling any type of food, restorative or otherwise, while "restaurateur" broadened its scope to encompass the proprietors of all such restaurants.