Restaurants in Switzerland are different than in the States. Sure, they both serve food. Still, a conversation I overheard in the train the other day got me thinking how big the differences really are.
Of course, generally speaking Europe is older than the United States. Go out west in America and you will undoubtedly find signs and historical markers that date way back to 1910. Many buildings in Europe easily date back to the 18th century or before and are still standing. It probably depends on how well they were built and if they were exposed to any natural or manmade catastrophes.
Travelling and getting somewhere in the olden days took a lot longer and was more perilous than today. Usually the travelers walked, or if possible, took a coach to get to their destinations. The post coach was probably the preferred means of transportation. It travelled regular routes and stopped at the post offices in each town. Consequently “Guest houses” popped up on these routes where travelers could eat and sleep. These places were usually at the post office and given exotic names like “Guest House Post”. Due to economic reasons and Internet, there are no longer Post Offices in every Swiss town. However, there are still well over 200 Post restaurants and hotels here.
In the mid 19th century railroads and train travel invaded Switzerland. It stands to reason that restaurants named “Train Station” boomed, too. There are still over 300 restaurants named “Train Station”. It’s just a wild guess, but I would say that they you can usually find a restaurant “Train Station” in the close vicinity of a train station.
Names of Swiss Restaurants
The overheard train conversation was between a Swiss and an American and centered on the names of restaurants. When the train stopped in Lyss the American said one of the beast meals he’s ever had was at the restaurant “Hirsch” right there in Lyss. It was fantastic, if the man he was talking to wanted a great meal then the restaurant “Hirsch” was the place to go. Unfortunately he didn’t go into any details as to what he was served that was so good.
The Swiss told him that “Hirsch” is the German word for “deer”. Then the American said it was probably the name of the owner; Mr. Hirsch. Sure, why not? John Deere manufactures agricultural, construction and forestry machinery in the States and world. Then maybe Johann Hirsch owns a restaurant in Switzerland. I doubted it but thought his argumentation wasn’t too bad. After all, a family named “Hirschi” [“small deer”] lived in the same apartment building as we did for years.
The down-to-earth, realistic Swiss wasn’t having any of this nonsense. He said there is a restaurant named “Deer” in almost every town. The owners of those places couldn’t possibly all be named Hirsch, John or otherwise. It was just the name of an animal. It seem like he could be right, I looked it up. There are only 137 people named “Hirsch” in the telephone book and almost 200 restaurants “Deer” in Switzerland.
Both men were stumped as to why you would name a restaurant after some animal. The American said that names of restaurants usually reflect the owner’s name, or a theme of some sort that can be found in the restaurant. For example, if a place is called “Restaurant Side-pocket” you might expect to find a billiard table there. What would you expect to find in the restaurant “Ox”?. Okay, this reasoning is true in America, but in Europe creative names are only limited to “newer” restaurants. And, no, there are no oxen themes in the restaurant “Ox”. The classical Swiss restaurant names go way back and can be divided into 3 major categories: symbolic, nature and animals. The animals names used seem to be strong, native and heraldic, so no restaurants Giraffes, Zebras or Raccoon around here.
In our Town
Our little town of Lengnau has a population of about 4,500 and has four traditional restaurants. This doesn’t include the restaurant “Train Station” which sadly closed last year, any pizza places or the one Asian restaurant. The name of all four restaurants in Lengnau are “Lion”, “Deer”, “Bear” and “Eagle”. They are all in the Top Swiss Restaurants Names list below.
Not being privy to my thoughts, the American made one more astute observation before we were all got off of the train. He asked his travel companion “If all these restaurants have the same name, maybe they are part of a chain, you know, like McDonald’s?”
Finally, as I was racing to catch a connecting train I thought I really should get some business cards printed so I could hand them out, just for occasions like that.
Top Swiss Restaurant Names
Here’s a short, non-official list of top names of restaurants in Switzerland (more than 100).
- Rössli [little horse] > 250
- Löwen [lion] > 200
- Hirschen [deer] > 200
- Bären [bear] > 150
- Ochsen [ox] > 100
- Adler [eagle] > 100
- Sonne [sun] > 200
- Linde [limewood or basswood tree] > 125
- Kreuz [cross] > 250
- Stern [star] > 225
- Krone [crown] > 150
- Bahnhof [train station] > 300
- Post [post office] > 225