September 4 – First Cafeteria in the U.S.

Posted on September 4, 2016

Self-service food? Getting a tray or a plate and grabbing your own grub at a restaurant?

This new idea was a time saver for workers, many of whom only had short lunch breaks.

The first cafeteria restaurant in the United States was apparently The Exchange Buffet, first opened in New York City on this date in 1885. It was right across the street from the Stock Exchange – hence its name.

And it was on the honor system!

Get this: customers picked up whatever they wanted to eat, put it all on a tray, and walked to a counter – where they ate their lunch standing up! It was only as they left that they told the cashier what they had eaten and paid for their food!
Apparently the E.B. of the
logo led many to call The
Exchange Buffet "the E & B."

It was said that this nickname
meant "Eat 'em and Beat 'em,"
a reference to how easy it
was to rip off the restaurant
by lying about what you've

Perhaps a more likely
explanation for the nickname
is "Eat it and Beat it," which
refers to how fast you can eat
and then leave (beat it).

What if customers lied? What if they ate an entire lunch plus pie and coffee but then claimed only to eat pie and coffee?

Apparently, most customers were honest. Even less honest people didn't want to take the chance of being loudly accused of lying by sharp-eyed cashiers. The Exchange Buffet stayed on the honor system for more than half a century, at least, so it must've worked out pretty well! Also, Exchange Buffets ended up springing up all over New York City – more than two dozen by the early 1900s!

Here's another “get-this” revelation: when it first opened, the Exchange Buffet served only men! I suppose that the idea was to serve businessmen, because in 1885, there were only men working at the Stock Exchange? Still, decades into the restaurant's existence, menus claimed that the Exchange Buffet was a “Man's Place,” and the company's president claimed in an ad that “every Exchange Buffet is 'A Man's Place.'”

Of course, eventually the restaurants allowed women customers and even – gasp! – provided some tables as well as counters at which they could eat. This photo from the 1920s shows some women customers as well as a waitress standing between counters:

Also on this date:

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest boards for:

And here are my Pinterest boards for:

No comments:

Post a Comment