he restaurant is a sleek, almost sparse space. There are no workers behind the counter, no waiters working the tables, no employees around at all. There are also no menus and no cashiers — just tables and chairs.
You walk over to a wall of glass windows and take look. There’s hot cherry pie, mashed potatoes, fresh steamed green beans, steak, and much more. Finally, you make a selection, dropping your money into a slot. A window opens in the shiny, high-tech machinery, and you take your fresh hot meal to a table….
Sounds futuristic, doesn’t it?
Think again. This restaurant, known as an automat, is a thing of the past. But guess what? They’re coming back.
Away with the Waiters
Horn and Hardart was a restaurant chain that got its start in the early 1900s. The company had scores of branches, known as automats, across the United States and served thousands of customers — without waiters or any other visible staff. Inspired by the first coin-operated vending machines, these automats seemed so futuristic, people didn’t even realize there was a full staff operating behind them. After all, someone had to cook the food, put it in the massive vending machine, wash the dishes and so on. But it was all unseen, taking place behind the equipment. And customers liked it that way. It gave diners a feeling of independence, like they weren’t relying or depending on waiters.
Over a hundred years ago people thought waiters were annoying — like, really annoying. Diners felt like they were being preyed on by them, seeing waiters as hovering around like flies at a picnic. And customers hated giving tips, which they viewed as ridiculous and even offensive. So when automats — which were billed as automatic restaurants — were introduced, people got excited.
Hmm, what do you think about waiters? Are they a bother or a blessing? And what about tips? Lots to think about. Let us know!
How They Worked
The first vending machines were actually invented about 2,000 years ago: They dispensed water. A person would drop a coin into a box, and the coin would hit a lever (like a seesaw). At the other end of the lever was a string that was tied to a bottle stopper. When the lever rose from the weight of the coin at the other end, the stopper was pulled out, and a little water was poured. When the coin rolled off the lever, the stopper would go back into the bottle. (Do you think you could make one of these simple devices? Send pics!)
(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 769)