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Inns are establishments where travelers can procure food, drink, and lodging. Found in Europe, they first sprang up when the Romans built their famous system of highways two millennia ago. Some inns in Europe are centuries old. In addition to providing for the needs of travelers, inns traditionally acted as community gathering places.
"Inn" in more recent times has often come to denote a business serving alcoholic beverages, especially in North America, where they are usually alcohol-serving restaurants that have never provided lodging or serviced the needs of travelers. In Europe, it is the provision of accommodation, if anything, that now differentiates inns from taverns, alehouses and pubs. These later tended only to supply alcohol (although in the UK the conditions of their license sometimes required them to have a nominal supply of food and soft drinks). Inns tend to be grander and more long-lived establishments. There is however no longer a formal distinction between an inn and other kinds of establishment, and many pubs will use the name "inn", either simply because they are long established, or to summon up a particular kind of image; however, originally an Inn had to provide not only food and lodging, but also stabling and fodder for the traveler's horse(s).
The German words for "inn", "innkeeper", and "innkeeping" illustrate the historical importance of inns. An innkeeper is Wirt (a host), the inn itself is a Wirtshaus (a host's house), and innkeeping is Wirtschaft. The last word literally means hosting or hospitality, but is also used to mean economy and business in general. In the Greek language, the word for economy (oikos "house" + nomos "law") is actually identical to housekeeping.