This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
The system of popular, cheap and good Parisian restaurants, world-renowned under the name of the Bouillons-Duvals, have received the most unbounded praise and also most unmitigated abuse, yet their growth and success has been so remarkable as to prove their excellence and value in spite of all detractors. The truth seems to be that they disappoint some visitors with their small portions served, their bare marble tables without tablecloths; their female waiters; a certain sort of want of style; and that is really what they are for and why they succeed - they are popular restaurants. But, whatever may be said, nobody doubts the perfect soundness of the methods employed to secure for the establishment every cent of the money it earns, without a shadow of injustice to the patron. This is the system which, it seems, ought to supersede the present crowded lunch counters of Chicago and all other large cities. The same urgent want of a place to obtain a decent meal in the shortest time and at a small cost was felt in the great city of Paris that is experienced here, and his Duval plan proved to be the right thing at the right time.
Beginning with one small soup house the Duval system has grown to a powerful company running over fifty restaurants in one city, their buying, importing, butchering and baking operations being now of as great magnitude as if all the hotels, restaurants and lunch houses of Chicago should throw their trade into one pool, all drawing from the same supply warehouses. Bouillon-Duval has a rather pretty look in French, but in literal English it is but Soup-Duval - we should say Soup-John's restaurant. Duval was a poor butcher who in 1854 opened a small place where he sold at first nothing but soup and beef, the Frenchman's home fare, bouilli-etbouillon - boiled beef and the broth it was boiled in - but these midday lunches crowded him so that he had to move into larger quarters and, needing assistance, he found it necessary to marry a young woman who was quick at figures and had a talent for business. They increased the scope of their restaurant business somewhat and got along so fast that Duval did what so many do disastrously, he rented a fine and expensive building, furnished it "with all the modern improvements" - presumably on credit - and also with a new project of his own; a scheme for furnishing free soda water to each lable and put in the necessary apparatus.
But this enterprise broke him up. He came out the loser of about $40,000. Then he began again in a small way, and his wife, looking back over what had occurred, thought she saw plainly the cause of their misfortune in the reflection that when they did a small business they could control the receipts themselves and secure all that was coming to them; when the business became so large that their employes had part control they lost. Their business increased. or, rather, their former patrons stuck to them, and Madame Duval invented the check system which is til! in use in all the Duval establishments; it is called the keystone of the whole Duval system. After that Duval went on prospering and increasing the number of his restaurants. He died in 1870 worth over a million. He had previously converted his extensive business into a joint stock affair, himself being president of the company, and when he died his widow was appointed to the same office in his place.
One distinguishing peculiarity of the Duval system is its dealing in very small change; it does not disdain the copper cent. This might militate against its adoption in our western cities, and yet it must be remembered that the one-cent and two-cent news-papers were met at the start with the same obstacle, but overcame it. In a Duval restaurant, while a person must pay for what he orders, he needs not pay even for a slice of bread more than he wants; bread is charged for the same as anything else, and if a loaf cost four cents the customer will have to pay only 1 cent for a quarter. But this does not prevent a customer from spending as many dollars as he pleases in ordering a fine dinner with wines and extras.
Another is the employment of female waiters only. They must be respectable married women; all are dressed in a sort of uniform, which a correspondent likens to the Sisters of Charity; the reality is, however, the establishment supplies them with dresses of black or gray alpaca, white apron, tulle cap and white linen sleeves, and a silvered brooch bearing their number in plain letters. This number they are obliged to mark on the customer's ticket when taking his order. They each have to wait on sixteen chairs; work from nine in the morning until nine at night, and receive twelve dollars per month wages and two meals a day. It is supposed that most of them make about a dollar a day average, besides, from gratuities.
The Duval system of checking, upon which so much stress is laid and with which these waitresses have much to do, consists in this: A person entering is handed a ticket from the window of the controlleur, a bit of pasteboard a good deal like the conductor's check showing the towns and distances on our railroads; it is a. miniature bill of fare containing some sixty or seventy items with prices attached. When he has taken his seat at a table, the waitress takes his ticket and marks a charge of 1 cent for "the cover" - for the setting of the plate, knife and fork, salt and pepper and glass of water. If he wants a tablecloth instead of the bare marble, he can have one for an additional cent; if ice in his drinking water it will be one cent more, and then he goes on to order his lunch or dinner of pretty much the same dishes that are served at lunch houses and restaurants of the cheaper sort in this country. The prices are low, but the portions served are likewise small - they are such portions as our friends the drummers term samples and kick at in some of our really excellent hotels, but in either place the hungry man can order more.
The Duval waiters will bring another portion and add another small charge for it to the ticket, in fact would keep on doing so all day; these restaurants sell at the cheapest rate, but do not give an ounce of anything for nothing.
The customer on departing leaves two or three cents by the side of his plate for the waitress, takes his ticket to the lady cashier who adds up the amount, takes his money, stamps the ticket and gives it back to him and he then delivers it to the controller, from whom he received it, as he passes out. A correspondent, remarking upon the various kinds of restaurants in Paris, says there is no possibility of collusion, the system is a perfect protection. In regard to a quite satisfactory dinner he took in company with a friend, he says: "We had tapioca soup, fried sole, roast beef with potatoes and celery, chicory salad, macaroons, and coffee, ice cream, a quart and a half of Sauterne, and a pint of champagne. The bill was exactly thirteen francs or about $2.47. In any other restaurant that I ever dined at the bill would certainly have been $5, the quality of the food being the same. In New York the amount of the bill would not have paid for the wine".
It is said the total number of meals served In the combined Duval restaurants of Paris aggregate three and a half millions each year.
The most extensive firm of London restaurant keepers, Messrs. Spiers and Pond, about two or three years ago started a Duval restaurant in London, which doubtless is running yet. It was patterned after the Paris original in nearly every respect, yet there were slight modifications made to accord better with British tastes, and the prices charged were considerably higher than the original Duval's. An enterprising American hotel man, who is now the proprietor of the Hotel Bellevue, Philadelphia, a year or two ago adopted or tried to adopt the Duval system of checking, if nothing else; the result of the experiment is not known to the one writing this. It is said of the first introduction of that check system in Paris: "There was at first some difficulty in inducing the public to accept the card on entering, while many refused to give it up on leaving. Ultimately, however, good sense, firmness and courtesy triumphed, the system was securely established, and thenceforth the success of Duval was assured".