The Origins of Heat and Serve Meals

October 19, 2021 11:15 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

The proliferation of food ordering apps has led to takeout and to-go meals becoming extremely popular. For people who would rather skip the cooking portion of meal preparation, ordering food to either be picked up or delivered is a great way to save time and still eat well.

But it wasn’t always as easy as tapping your smart phone a few times and having freshly made food at your door. Heat and serve meals and to-go meals didn’t always exist, and how they came to be is a fascinating look into the intersection of food and culture.

Ancient Rome

The first places at which people could order takeout or takeaway food was at food stalls in ancient Rome and ancient Greece. Archaeologists found over 200 thermopolia or service counters in Pompeii, where people could order food and transport it elsewhere to eat. As with many other cultural touchstones, ancient Rome led the way when it came to takeout food.

Medieval times

In medieval Europe, popular local dishes were served up by street vendors. These included meat pies, geese and wine in London and meats, tarts, cheeses, flans, eggs and squabs in Paris. These types of foodstuffs were popular with everyone, but especially so with impoverished city dwellers. This is because they usually didn’t have their own kitchens to cook for themselves.


Around the same time, takeaway food was becoming more prevalent in the Far East, namely in China. In Kaifeng and Hangzhou, there were special pastries known as congyoubing and yuebing that were available for people to purchase and eat elsewhere. The shops in Kaifeng became immensely successful, and at one point housed 50 ovens or more in order to meet demand.

Colonial America

In the 1700s, hotels located in large cities would offer meal service that patrons could access by sending out servants. Those servants would then retrieve whatever type of food had been cooked that day and bring it back. This seemed to be an early form of room service.

19th century America

The first railway lines were built in the United States in 1830. This revolutionized travel around the nation in the ensuing decades, and it created a class of people that were on the go and still needed to eat. So, restaurants began offering what they tabbed “lunches put up” in cracker boxes that people could grab during their travels. This trend became more ubiquitous during and immediately after the Civil War.

1920s America

Some restaurants were offering boxed lunches that contained sandwiches and salads, seemingly paving the way for the sandwich shops of today. In Los Angeles in 1922, Kin-Chu was an authentic Chinese restaurant that offered delivery, and was thought to be the first restaurant in the country to do so. However, the Great Depression of the 1930s and the stress of World War II in the 1940s put a major dent in the takeout food industry.

1950s and pizza in America

A New York Times article about pizza in1944 and the universality of televisions in nearly every home in the 1950s led to a fledgling takeout food industry that is still thriving today.

Call for your heat and serve meals today

Whether it’s to-go meals or heat and serve meals you require, give us a call at Tony’s Delicatessen & Fresh Meats. We have everything from meat lasagna to broccoli and cheese casserole to macaroni and cheese available in convenient pans to go.

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