Entry in progress—B.P.
A cafeteria or caféteria is a type of food service location in which there is little or no table service, whether a restaurant or within an institution such as a large office building or school; a school dining location is also referred to as a dining hall or canteen (in UK English). Cafeterias are different from coffeehouses, although that is the Spanish meaning of the English word.
Instead of table service, there are food-serving counters/stalls, either in a line or allowing arbitrary walking paths. Customers take the food they require as they walk along, placing it on a tray. In addition, there are often stations where customers order food and wait while it is prepared, particularly for items such as hamburgers or tacos which must be served hot and can be quickly prepared. Alternatively, the patron is given a number and the item is brought to their table. Sometimes, for some food items and drinks, customers collect an empty container, pay at the check-out, and fill the container after the check-out. Free second servings are often allowed under this system. For legal purposes (and the consumption patterns of customers), this system is rarely or never used for alcoholic beverages.
Customers are either charged a flat rate for admission (as in a buffet), or pay at the check-out for each item. Some self-service cafeterias charge by the weight of items on a patron’s plate.
As cafeterias require few employees, they are often found within a larger institution, catering to the clientele of that institution. For example, schools, colleges and their residence halls, department stores, hospitals, museums, and office buildings often have cafeterias.
At one time, upscale cafeteria-style restaurants dominated the culture of the Southern United States, and to a lesser extent the Midwest. There were several prominent chains of them: Bickford’s, Morrison’s Cafeteria, Piccadilly Cafeteria, S&W Cafeteria, Apple House, K&W, Britling, and Blue Boar among them. Currently two midwest chains still exist, Sloppy Jo’s Luchroom and Manny’s, both located in Illinois. There were also a number of smaller chains, usually in and around a single city. These institutions, with the exception of K&W, went into a decline in the 1960s with the rise of fast food and were largely finished off in the 1980s by the rise of “casual dining”. A few chains — notably Luby’s and Piccadilly Cafeterias (which took over the Morrison’s chain), continue to fill some of the gap left by the decline of the older chains. Many of the smaller Midwestern chains, such as MCL Cafeterias centered around Indianapolis, are still very much in business.
The world’s largest non-military cafeteria is in the Brody Complex at Michigan State University.
Perhaps the first self-service restaurant (not necessarily cafeteria) in the United States was the Exchange Buffet in New York City, opened September 4, 1885, which catered to an exclusively male clientele. Food was purchased at a counter, and patrons ate standing up. This represents the predecessor of two formats: the cafeteria, described below, and the automat.
During the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, an entrepreneur named John Kruger built an American version of the smörgåsbords he had seen while traveling in Sweden. Emphasizing the simplicity and light fare, he called it the “Cafeteria” - Spanish for “coffee shop”. The exposition attracted over 27 million visitors (half the US population at the time) in six months, and it was initially through Kruger’s operation that America first heard the term and experienced the self-service dining format.
Meanwhile, in everyday, hometown America, the chain of Childs Restaurants was quickly growing from about 10 locations in New York City (in 1890), to hundreds across the United States and Canada (by 1920). Childs is credited with the critical innovation of adding trays and a “tray line” to the self-service format, which they introduced in 1898 at their 130 Broadway location. Childs did not change its format of sit-down dining, however. This was soon the standard design for most Childs Restaurants - and many imitators - from coast-to-coast, and ultimately the dominant design for cafeterias.
It has also been said that the “cafeteria craze started in May 1905, when a woman named Helen Mosher opened a humble downtown L.A. restaurant where people chose their food at a long counter and carried their own trays to their tables.” California does have a long and rich history in the cafeteria format - most notably the many Boos Brothers Cafeterias, and also Clifton’s and Schaber’s. However, the facts do not warrant the “wellspring” characterization that some have ascribed to the region. The earliest cafeterias in California were opened at least 12 years after Kruger’s Cafeteria, and Childs already had several dozen locations scattered around the country. Finally, Horn & Hardart, an automat format chain (only slightly different from the cafeteria), was also well established in the mid-Atlantic region before 1900.
Between 1960 and 1980, the popularity of cafeteria format restaurants was gradually overcome by the emergence of the fast food restaurant and fast casual restaurant formats.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Main Entry: 1caf·e·te·ria
Etymology: American Spanish cafetería coffeehouse, from cafetera coffee maker, from French cafetière, from café
1 : a restaurant in which the customers serve themselves or are served at a counter and take the food to tables to eat
2 : lunchroom
(Oxford English Dictionary)
[a. Amer.- Sp. cafetería coffee-shop.]
A coffee-house; a restaurant, esp. now a self-service restaurant.
1839 J. L. STEPHENS Trav. Russian & Turkish Emp. I. 157 Every third shop, almost, being a cafteria [sic] where a parcel of huge turbanded fellows were at their daily labours of smoking pipes and drinking coffee.
1894 Lakeside Directory Chicago 2188 Cafetiria Catering Co. 45 Lake.
1895 Ibid. 2231 ‘Cafetiria’, 46 Lake, 80 Adams, 108 Quincy and 93 Vanburen.
1896 Chicago Tribune 28 June 4/1 Gerbach used to be a waiter in a West Side restaurant subsequent to his employment by the cafeteria company.
1912 Jrnl. Home Economics IV. 245 Exactly the same menu was served in a large college dining room and at the cafeteria.
1916 H. NEWMARK Sixty Years in S. Calif. x. 133 Then came the cafetería... It was rather a place for drinking than for eating, and in this respect the name had little of the meaning current in parts of Mexico to-day, where a cafetería is a small restaurant serving ordinary alcoholic drinks and plain meals.
4 October 1894, Penny Press (Cleveland, OH), pg. 2:
The PENNY PRESS can safely recommend to the public that the Midland Cafe and Cafeteria, Nos. 16 and 18 Fourth street south, the old W. C. T. U. Coffee house beats them all. Its the place for ladies. There’s no better for gentlemen.
25 November 1894, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, “Bits of City Life,” pg. 46:
The cafeteria has not yet made its appearance on the West Side.
13 January 1895, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, pg. 34:
GOES ON THE CAFETERIA PLAN.
With This Street Peddler You Help Yourself and Pay for What You Get.
16 August 1895, Morning World-Herald (Omaha, NE), pg. 8:
It is not so very many months ago that a man with more enterprise than money started the first Cafeteria in Chicago. To a large extent it was his own idea. It consisted of a restaurant at which every patron helps himself to what he wants, and reckons up his own account, paying it without the supervision of a waiter.
So successful was the first of the Cafeterias that the man who was responsible for it prospered beyond his wildest dreams. He now has four of these establishments, and is able to supply the custom that comes to him. He has had imitators, of course, and they also have thrived, though the original Cafeterias enjoy the best reputation. The originator has brought suit against his imitators, but they hope to escape legal disapprobation by a variation in the spelling of the name.
12 January 1896, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, pg. 18, col. 6:
FIXTURES FOR SALE at No. 6 Whitehall, the new cafeteria: any one contemplating the starting of an eating house can do well by seeing what we have for sale.
1 March 1896, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, pg. 9, col. 2:
THE POPULARITY of the Cafeteria increases daily. The best of everything to eat at the lowest possible prices. Open Sundays.
DEVILED crab 10 cents. Cafeteria, 6 Whitehall street. Open Sundays.
HALF DOZEN SELECT oysters stewed in mil for 15 cents at the Cafeteria, 6 Whitehall; open Sundays.
15 March 1896, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, pg. 24, col. 3:
DO YOU EAT?
If So, Try the Cafeteria.
There you will find anything the most fastidious could wish. They have fed for the past week from three to five hundred people a day. This speaks well for the management, and Atlanta should feel proud for such spiritedness, as the city has for a long time felt its need. Don’t forget, their number is 6 Whitehall street, and remember you get the best possible attention there.
7 March 1901, Waukesha (WI) Freeman, pg. 1, col 5:
The teacher with whom the club is negotiating is Miss Emma G. Stiles, manager of the cafeteria of the South Side High School in Milwaukee. She comes highly recommended as cook and instructor.
9 March 1902, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, pg. 2, col. 2:
Then we serve on the cafeteria plan, which saves the expense and trouble of dining room service. What kind of a plan is that? Every girl serves herself. We have a blackboard on which the bill of fare is written, and when she decides what she wants, the girl goes to the serving counter and tells the lady behind it what she wants, the lady gives it to her on a tray, she helps herself to bread, butter, cream abd sugar, and silver, and at this point her dinner is checked; she takes her dinner to any table she chooses. When she has eaten and finished her visit with her table companions, she brings her dishes back and pays the cashier.
1 August 1916, Daily Alaska Dispatch (AK), “Cafeteria Is Craze in Los Angeles Now,” pg. 6:
In 1905, Miss Helen S. Mosher, of Michigan, with Mrs. Nellie Estab and Mrs. Pauline Botts opened on the fringe of the downtown retail district here, a noon lunch especially catering to business people.
Curious persons investigating the “Cafeteria” signs on the windows found a well lighted, semi-basement room, with 75 tables, a long steam-table heaped with home cooked foods and stacks of trays on one of which each proceeded to carry to a table the meal of his choice. He also had to carry his empty dishes back to the rear of the room when through. WIthin a few days a line of would-be patrons extended into the street at each lunch hour, and within a few weeks the same phenomenon existed at the dinner hour.
Since that time much of life in Los Angeles has been just one cafeteria after another. Within a year or so after the establishment of the first cafeteria, practically every downtown restaurant except the most expensive and the comparatively few serving liquor, had gone out of business. At present tens of thousands of meals are served in the downtown cafeterias daily, one place alone, two blocks from the original cafeteria, which still exists, seating 1000 persons. Women as owners have entirely disappeared from the local field.
The three women after having opened a second cafeteria here and another in San Francisco closed out their business in 1912 no longer feeling the necessity for engaging in the strenuous competition. Miss Mosher now pursuing a more leisurely vocation here does not remember where she found the name “cafeteria” save that she thinks a small lunch room in Chicago was so called.
New York City • Restaurants/Bars/Coffeehouses/Food Stores • Monday, August 17, 2009 • Permalink