Origin As Restaurant Cover Charge, and Etymology
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a "cover charge" as a "charge for service included in differentials also listed as acknowledged part-restaurants". Such a charge is made in many countries, usually described by the word equivalent to "cover" (couvert, coperto, cubierto, etc.). A place-setting at a restaurant, in English and in other languages, is often referred to as "a cover" or equivalent term in other languages. A term sometimes used in the US is "table charge". The charge is typically a few US dollars or equivalent. Although the charge is often said to be for bread, olives, etc. taken to the table, it is payable whether or not they are eaten.
Restaurants in English-speaking countries sometimes have a menu in French; in these and other restaurants the cover charge is sometimes described with the French word "couvert". This term and the related charge, originating in France, has been used with this meaning in English since at least 1899. The French word both means table setting and is the past participle of couvrir, "to cover"; couvert or "cover" in the sense of place-setting derived from the French past participle according to the OED: "Cover (7): After French couvert, (1) ‘the covering or furniture of a Table for the meale of a prince’ (Cotgrave), the cloth, plates, knives, forks, etc. with which a table is covered or laid; (2) the portion of these appropriated to each guest".
The couvert or cover charge has been levied for many years, certainly in English-speaking countries by 1899. The concept, and term, was later used in the US in the 1920s by illegal bars called speakeasies, during the Prohibition-era ban on alcohol. Manhattan saloonkeeper Tex Guinan, was an early example of a bar requiring a cover charge from patrons. In the US the cover charge later became an entry charge where both entertainment and food and drink are provided, and carries the expectation of entertainment.
In most countries where restaurant cover charges are made the practice is far from universal; many restaurants make no charge. Tourist destinations may be more likely to make this charge, which unwary visitors may not anticipate. Tips are usually much lower internationally than the 15-20% typical in restaurants in the USA without cover charge; the total outlay for the meal including tip is not necessarily higher.
The term "cover charge" is used in other cases, and can be confusing. A practice, sometimes called a cover charge in the USA is to make a flat charge for unlimited food. Restaurants may make a charge to diners who book but fail to show up; this is occasionally called a cover charge.
Read more about this topic: Cover Charge
Famous quotes containing the words origin, restaurant, cover and/or etymology:
“For, though the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained currency, because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882)
“A restaurant is a fantasya kind of living fantasy in which diners are the most important members of the cast.”
—Warner Leroy, U.S. restaurateur, founder of Maxwells Plum restaurant, New York City. New York Times (July 9, 1976)
“You may call a jay a bird. Well, so he is, in a measurebecause hes got feathers on him, and dont belong to no church, perhaps; but otherwise he is just as much a human as you be. And Ill tell you for why. A jays gifts and instincts, and feelings, and interests, cover the whole ground. A jay hasnt got any more principle than a Congressman.”
—Mark Twain [Samuel Langhorne Clemens] (18351910)
“Semantically, taste is rich and confusing, its etymology as odd and interesting as that of style. But while stylederiving from the stylus or pointed rod which Roman scribes used to make marks on wax tabletssuggests activity, taste is more passive.... Etymologically, the word we use derives from the Old French, meaning touch or feel, a sense that is preserved in the current Italian word for a keyboard, tastiera.”
—Stephen Bayley, British historian, art critic. Taste: The Story of an Idea, Taste: The Secret Meaning of Things, Random House (1991)