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Eating on the run has a long history in America, but it was the automobile that created a whole new category of dining: "fast food." In the final volume of their "Gas, Food, Lodging" trilogy, John Jakle and Keith Sculle contemplate the origins, architecture, and commercial growth of fast food restaurants from White Castle to McDonald's.
Illustrated with 217 maps, postcards, photographs, and drawings, Fast Food makes clear that the story of these unpretentious restaurants is the story of modern American culture. The first roadside eateries popularized once-unfamiliar foods -- hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, milkshakes, burritos -- that are now basic to the American diet. By the 1950s, drive-ins and diners had become icons of rebellion where teenagers sought freedom from adult authority. Like the gas station and the motel, the roadside restaurant is an essential part of the modern American landscape -- where intentional sameness of design "welcomes" every interstate driver.
About the Author
John A. Jakle is a professor of geography and landscape architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Keith A. Sculle is an adjunct professor of history at the University of Illinois at Springfield and head of research and education at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
Read an Excerpt
The Rise of the Quick-Service Restaurant
We consider here the development of quick-service restaurants in the United States. Although our emphasis in this book is the automobile-convenient restaurant, such eateries did not suddenly appear created, as it were, without prior context. Rather, roadside stands, drive-ins, and all the other kinds of latter-day roadside restaurants came out of a well-established tradition of offering food quickly to hurried customers. Formats such as the soda fountain and luncheonette, main-street café, and the diner readily come to mind. Our emphasis in this and the next chapter, which does focus on roadside eateries, is building form. What form did quick-service restaurants take over the past 100 years? To what extent did distinctive design vocabularies emerge to define the quick-service restaurant as a unique kind of place? As we will establish, much that came to characterize roadside eating had its origins in the pre-automobile era.
By "architecture" we mean the physical form that restaurants took as places defined at the geographical scale of the retail storefurnishings, their spatial arrangement, the building as structural container, its orientation to the public way, and its facade and signage among other characteristics. Our purpose here is to identify structural designs (and even prototypes) with which restaurant food came to be closely associated. Following chapters will emphasize the growth of restaurant chains whereby lookalike restaurants of various configurations were used to establish local, regional, and national tradeterritoriesthe rise of place-product-packaging in the restaurant business. Later chapters will focus on the kinds of food served in restaurants. As we will outline, different architectural forms were variously used by different chains in offering menus built around different focal foods.
As common as restaurants have become, it is difficult to conceptualize life without them. And yet, the restaurant as we know it is a relatively recent innovation in the American experience, truly flourishing only since the Civil War. The word "restaurant" was borrowed from the French, who used it to designate in the 1760s a form of bouillon, a soup of sheep's foot in white sauce. In the nineteenth-century United States the term came to designate "eating houses" as well as "dining rooms," "coffee houses," and "oyster houses." Less popular was the verb "to restaurate"to eat at a restaurant, to take a meal, or, in a more general sense, to restore.
Before the Civil War, food outside the home could be found in a variety of places. Travelers could obtain drink and "victuals" in the coaching inns and taverns. Hotels maintained dining rooms that catered not only to transients but to long-term residents renting rooms by week, month, or year. Boardinghouses, many catering only to bachelor males, also offered meals to nonresidents on a contractual basis. But it was the coffee house, which served as a center for socializing and conduct of business, and the oyster house, which specialized in oysters preserved and shipped in salt brine, that provided templates for a new kind of freestanding eating place not specifically tied to overnight accommodation. The craze for coffee reflected both its ready availability, a cheap import from South America, and the American aversion after the Revolution to customs English, such as drinking tea. The craze for oysters reflected their cheap abundance (before industrial pollutants destroyed the oyster beds of New England and diminished those of the Chesapeake Bay) and the ability to ship them quickly over long distances, especially with development of the nation's railroads. Oysters served as a kind of exotica in otherwise bland diets. Neither the coffee house nor the oyster house operated on a strict schedule where people entered, sat, and ate by the sound of a bell. Rather, during business hours, customers could enter and order on a "come and get it" basis.
Members of the Del-Monico family, perhaps more than any other entrepreneurs, popularized the restaurant idea, applying the name to several Manhattan eating establishments in the 1830s. Introduced was a French "Parisian" cuisine that brought immediate approval from New York City's social elites. As with many words of high status or class implication, the term restaurant was quickly expropriated to common use, reflecting the leveling instincts of a new popular culture built around democratic political ideals. Although some restaurants, like the various Delmonico's, catered to the affluent, most catered to the working man, both the lowly hourly industrial laborer and the up-and-coming salaried clerk employed in store or office.
The saloon was another place where a light meal could be obtained, at least at noontimewhat came to be called "lunch." Free or very inexpensive food was made available as a kind of "loss leader," saloonkeepers taking their profits from the beer or other drinks consumed. Such lunches, usually grabbed on the fly, fit the needs of workers regulated by the clock. Once Prohibition was introduced, first state by state and then nationwide in 1919, saloon food disappeared, giving the quick-service restaurants a substantial boost.
Because the restaurant idea was applied to different kinds of establishments decade by decade, it is difficult, even for recent years, to estimate the numbers of establishments or to estimate levels of patronage. In 1958, the U.S. Bureau of the Census counted 229,815 eating places and 114,925 drinking places; the figures stood in 1982 at 301,700 and 80,000 respectively. In 1967, over $91 billion was spent by Americans on food, $22 billion (or 24 percent) on food and beverage bought and consumed outside the home in places other than clubs, schools, hospitals, prisons, and on trains and airplanes. Included, besides restaurants, were hotels and drugstores. In 1978, the food-service industry generated sales of some $70 billion, making it the third largest American industry, and the nation's largest employer with some 4 million employees earning some $15 billion. In 1983, quick-service restaurants featuring fast food constituted some 40 percent of the nation's eating and drinking places. Americans were spending nearly 40 percent of their food dollars at restaurants, the average person eating out 3.7 times a week. By 1990, the estimated number of "limited menu" restaurants had grown to 188,755. In 1992, the top 200 restaurant chains accounted for more than 50 percent of all domestic restaurant sales, surpassing independent restauranteurs for the first time. By 1996, the restaurant business in the United States was a $212-billion industry.
Not only have Americans become more dependent on restaurant food, but the very nature of the American diet has been changed by eating out. Not only did restaurants appeal through speedy service, made possible by frying and the introduction of frozen and other "convenience" foods, but restaurants came to promote highly flavorful "novelty" foods, the taste for which came to alter American dietary habits even at home. Between 1960 and 1976, beef consumption rose from 64.3 to 95.4 pounds per year per person. One restaurant chain, McDonald's, was selling over 6 million hamburgers a day in 1976. Like the oyster before, the hamburger, the hot dog, the french fry, and the pizza slice were introduced originally as mere novelties. But, unlike the oyster, the supply of these latter foods increased decade to decade until they became a dietary norm rather than an exotic indulgence. Thus did consumption of frozen potatoes jump from 6.6 to 36.8 pounds a year per person between 1960 and 1976, as did the use of hard cheese from 8.3 to 15.9 pounds, and tomato sauce and paste from 7.6 to 13.3 pounds.
Not all Americans enjoyed equal access to restaurants. The less affluent, as we have implied, were restricted largely to limited-menu establishments where the price of food remained a prime attractor. Originally, restaurants were primarily masculine places, customers being overwhelmingly male, as were cooks and counter and table help. First in the kitchen, then as waitresses out front, did women come to the restaurant scene. And as women provided more and more of the labor, restaurants opened to unescorted women as customers. In the American South, and to lesser degrees elsewhere in the nation, African-Americans were regularly denied service in restaurants before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the South, blacks were either excluded entirely or, if admitted to white-patronized restaurants, required to enter by separate doors and sit at separate tables. Many black communities supported their own restaurants accordingly. Although segregation kept blacks and whites from eating together, it did not keep them from eating the same kinds of food separately. Of course, much of the kitchen lab or in white-only restaurants was African-American.
Restaurants reflected the larger social contexts into which they were embedded. As a kind of place important in everyday socializing they became important targets for social reformers. When African-Americans set about to confront segregation laws, they organized sit-ins at lunch counters. Traditional social symbolism ultimately was changed through the "violation" of traditional behavioral norms. Eventually, restaurants of all kinds were opened to everyone. The common restaurant proved an ideal place to demonstrate and partially remedy a deprived minority's discontent.
Our purpose in this chapter is to explore the kinds of restaurants that ordinary Americans used in living, working, and traveling in the United States before the era of the automobile. We also describe briefly the continued influence that these places enjoyed after the nation's reorientation to motor cars and highway travel. We start, therefore, with hotel dining rooms and coffee shops, soda fountains, luncheonettes and lunchrooms, cafeterias and automats, and diners as the prevalent quick-service restaurant types before the era of automobile convenience.
Hotel Dining Rooms and Coffee Shops
The hotel in America grew out of the stagecoach inn, reoriented to travel by railroad and streetcar, and finally to travel by automobile. By 1900, leading big-city hotels were mammoth structures with hundreds of guest rooms (and sometimes thousands) with large public spaces including ballrooms and, of course, formal dining rooms. They echoed the grandeur of the European palace, with a preponderance for French rococo or Italianate baroque or Beaux Arts classicism in interior ornamentation. Flowered carpets, brocaded wallpaper, crystal chandeliers, and gilded mirrors were very much in vogue in dining-room decor, all articulated in emulation of European aristocracy. Shown is the dining room of the Rosslyn Hotel in Los Angeles, a large room of classical motif that echoed, as well, Arts and Crafts influence in tiled floor, woodwork, and furniture design (see fig. 1.1). Serving primarily businessmen, hotel dining rooms featured heavy meals built around red meat and an abundance of alcohol.
For lighter meals, guests might repair to a hotel bar and grill or, especially for breakfast or lunch, to a hotel coffee shop. To make up for lost dining-room and bar trade with the coming of Prohibition, hotels catered more specifically to women and to family groups through lighter fare, more female employees, and simplified interior decor more feminine and more "homelike." Hotel coffee shops reflected the increased informality of relaxed social codes driven forward, substantially, by the increased geographical mobility of automobile travel. New automobile entrances and new coffee shops were often located side by side as, for example, at the Hotel Pittenger at Centralia, Illinois (see fig. 1.2). Small towns like Centralia could only emulate remotely the big-city grand hotel and the Pittenger's coffee shop, therefore, was scaled down to fit the town. One side of the small room was configured as a soda fountain where drink and food was prepared. The remainder of the room was given over to tables and chairs. Ornamentation was minimal, but reflected big-city tastefulness. A kitchen beyond contained stoves and ovens, additional food-preparation counters, sinks for dishwashing, and storage cabinets.
In 1928, the Albert Pick Corporation, a hotel outfitting company, estimated that the average 75-room hotel, like the Pittenger, generated $57,480 from guest-room rental (based on an assumed 70 percent occupancy), and $52,600 (or 42 percent of total revenues) from food service. For 150- and 225-room hotels, the proportion of revenues obtained from dining rooms and coffee shops stood at 41 percent. Hotel restaurants, therefore, represented an important revenue source for the hospitality industry. Indeed, the typical hotel traditionally made most of its profits from its public spaces, room rentals providing an "in-house" clientele for restaurant and other services.
In the early era of motoring, the automobile tourist looked to old railroad hotels for both overnight accommodation and food. Included were the resort hotels that catered especially to more affluent women who, with their children, escaped from city heat in summer months. In the more progressive towns and cities, investor syndicates, often formed through a chamber of commerce or booster club, promoted new upscale hotels with automobile entrances and nearby storage garages. There especially did dining rooms and coffee shops coexist as complementary formal and informal spaces, the coffee shop reflecting directly the relaxed dress codes appropriate to motoring. The hotel restaurant greatly eased the traveler's problem of deciding where to eat in a strange locality.
Soda Fountains, Luncheonettes, and Lunchrooms
A variety of quick-service restaurants embraced, in whole or in part, innovations brought forward in the nation's "soda fountains." The soda drink, compounded of carbonated soda water blended with flavored cream syrup, originated in 1839 at the shop of Eugene Roussel, a perfume dealer in Philadelphia. The idea spread quickly, with small but highly ornamented dispensing mechanisms for table- and countertops, called soda fountains, manufactured by a host of companies. When proper amounts of sulfuric acid, carbonic acid, and water were filtered through marble dust, carbon dioxide gas was released, the liquid produced charged with harmless bubbles. Mixed with extracts of fruit, flavored soda water was sold under a variety of generic namesbirch beer, pepsin, ginger ale, sarsaparilla. In 1874 Robert Green, at the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, added ice cream to soda water to produce the first ice cream soda. Stores with soda fountains quickly added iceboxes in which to store ice cream, and ice with which to cool drinks. It was not until 1903, however, that the now-familiar soda-fountain prototype emerged with its two unitsa large high-back section heavily ornamented with a large mirror or painting, and a companion low front section configured as a counter at which customers could sit on stools (see figs. 1.3 and 1.4). These fountains mimicked the bar fixtures of saloons, employing wood or other heavy materials such as Italian marble or Mexican onyx. By 1908, there were an estimated 75,000 soda fountains located in a variety of different kinds of stores, especially drugstores and confectionery shops.
Beginning in the 1880s, many stores with soda fountains began to add light food, especially sandwiches, to complement their soda drinks and ice cream desserts. And, with the coming of counters at which customers sat, the luncheonette was born. Food increased trade, especially at noontime when specialty desserts were in low demand. Sandwiches, soups, and other light fare also increased business beyond the warm-weather months. In Houston, the Rouse's Drug Stores advertised, "In order to maintain the operating expenses of our enormous Soda Fountains during the Winter months we have inaugurated a Light Lunch Service at the Fountains every day." Perhaps drugstores, more than any other type of business, embraced the soda fountain/luncheonette in largest numbers. However, fountains and lunch counters also commonly appeared in department stores, in the new dime stores, and in railroad stations. Only the fancy passenger trains carried dining cars, most railroad travelers dependent for food on lunchrooms in depots. Perhaps the most celebrated were the Fred Harvey restaurants operated for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. The hurried railroad traveler came to personify the brach-counter customer, but the railroad station was but one place where early fast food flourished. With the coming of Prohibition, many saloons became soda fountains and luncheonettes. The soda fountain also drove establishment of "lunchrooms," eating places less oriented to the dessert crowd and more oriented to seekers of cheap and quick meals morning, noon, and night.
The habits of quick eating, built around coffee, soft drinks, and novelty sandwiches like hamburgers, brought condemnations. Wrote one anonymous medical doctor quoted and pilloried in an industry trade journal: "The good, old fashioned American meal of ham, cabbage and potatoes ... is being rapidly supplanted by sugary concoctions of the soda jerker's ingenuity." "This indiscreet eating," he continued, "with almost a total lack of exercise, now features the life of the average businessman. Up at 8 in the morning; a hasty breakfast, ride downtown in an automobile; a ten minute lunch, of miscellaneous sugary drinks in the quick lunch or drug store, back to the office, home in an automobilethey call that a day.... The consequences are indigestion, bad nerves, decaying teeth, restless nights and cutting down the span of life," he argued.
The layout of soda fountains and luncheonettes varied, but always employed the basic organizing device of counter and stool. At the U-shaped lunch counter diagrammed, customers sat facing one another across a kitchen galley (see fig. 1.5). The cash register at the top of the U, like everything else in the layout, was operated from the service aisle. Glasses and chinaware were cleaned in an adjacent room. Here was a highly efficient plan that minimized movement. No wonder the counter formula came to thrive in a host of restaurant venues. Lunch counters remained central to the restaurant idea in America for over 50 years. They continue in certain kinds of restaurants today.
From early soda fountains came America's most popular soft drinks. Atlantan John S. Pemberton concocted a syrup of sugar and other flavorings, including kola leaf and kola nut extract, and a small amount of artificial synthetic caffeine. Pemberton, in and out of the wholesale drug business throughout his business career, previously had perfected such fanciful products as Indian Queen Hair Dye, Triplex Liver pills, and Globe Flower Cough Syrup. His new syrup was marketed by an Atlanta druggist who combined it with soda water to create a new drink under the name Coca-Cola. Local businessman Asa Candler organized the Coca-Cola Company and launched an aggressive advertising campaign across the American South featuring signs of red, white, and green. Quickly, Coca-Cola began to supplant locally concocted syrups in soda fountains nationwide. Indeed, the Coca-Cola sign, when hung over the front door of a drugstore or other business, became perhaps the clearest cue to soda-fountain services ever developed.
Pepsi-Cola was the invention of Caleb D. Bradham, a New Bern, North Carolina, druggist in search of a cure for dyspepsia. Patented in 1903, Pepsi-Cola contained pepsin, a digestive enzyme marketed as a stomach soother. However, it was entrepreneur Charles Guth who created the Pepsi-Cola Company, turning, as did Cola-Cola also, to marketing a soft drink in bottles through a system of bottling franchises organized territorially across the United States. Royal Crown Cola originated in Columbus, Georgia, in 1905, the work of another pharmacist. Dr. Pepper originated in a Waco, Texas, drugstore in 1885. The Dr. Pepper Company's lemon-lime soft drink proved so successful that the firm changed its name to the Seven-Up Corporation in 1929. There were, of course, many imitators, especially of the Coca-Cola idea, including the now-forgotten Ameri-Cola, Cola Queen, Dixie Cola, Its-A-Cola, Kiss-Kola, and Taka-Cola.
Out of the luncheonette evolved the lunchroom, most retaining the lunch counter as a principal feature. By 1920, chains of lunchrooms were well established in most large cities, although most chains comprised only two or three establishments sharing a name and advertised as "a system." Larger chains also shared central commissaries as well. The Thompson lunchrooms in Chicago and the Baltimore Dairy Lunch Rooms in that city both numbered over 100 stores by 1920; Waldorf Lunch operated a total of 75 stores spread from Springfield, Massachusetts, where the company was headquartered, to New York, Boston, Buffalo, and Providence. The lunchrooms operated by Child's Unique Dairy Lunch in New York City occupied, as with all the chains, standard storefronts. Locations were pedestrian-oriented and were sited, accordingly, along streetcar lines or near subway station entrances. Each restaurant was long and narrow, its axis perpendicular to sidewalk and street. Down one side ran a long counter, with a line of stools, tables, and chairs filling the remainder of the room. Customers on stools sat facing the countermen (eventually replaced by waitresses), and, of course, a rear counter where food was prepared. On entering, customers received a ticket to be stamped, paying a cashier as they left. However, at Waldorf locations, as well as at Baltimore Lunch locations, food supplied from central commissaries was dispensed at counters in the rear of each store and carried by customers on trays to one-armed chairs or to small booths.
Schrafft's, developed by Frank Shattuck, originated in Boston in 1898. By 1915, the company had nine stores in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn, and one in Syracuse besides its Boston facility. By 1923, the chain had grown to 22 stores, and by 1934 to 42. The company was originally, and remained, a candy manufacturer, its confectionery-soda fountain stores created as sales outlets for its candy. The firm targeted as customers women as well as men, and was one of the first to employ women managers. "Many of our customers are secretaries and stenographers ... who must watch their pocketbooks," Shattuck reported in an industry trade journal. A journalist writing in The Soda Fountain found the Schrafft stores "equipped with fine fixtures and decorated with dignity and taste." "In most of the stores fine selected walnut has been used for wood work and the decorative scheme carried out in early American period furniture." Schrafft's, and the other luncheon chains, were early attempts at place-product-packaging, the replicating of lookalike stores in chains defining sales territories.
We should emphasize that most lunchrooms, like most of the soda fountains and luncheonettes that they closely emulated, were not chain-operated. The lunch-counter business, certainly before World War I, was often linked in a "mom and pop" operation to confectionery salescandies, bakery goods, and, sometimes, fruit sales. Candy and baked goods were usually made on the premises in a back room or basement work space. It was the kind of business that many immigrant families could aspire to early in the twentieth century. Although entrepreneurial and managerial talent was drawn from many different ethnic groups, varying, of course, from one part of the country to another (and even from one city to another within a region), Greek-Americans made an impact almost everywhere in the United States. The "Greek" confectionery shop with its soda fountain and candy counter was an important urban fixture across the United States.
Small-town main streets and city business districts came to sport small restaurants usually called cafés. They, too, used the soda fountain and lunch counter as an organizing idea, but placed more emphasis on table service. Booths, which provided some privacy for customers and were easy for proprietors to maintain, won rapid acceptance. Main-street cafés promoted both quick service, especially at breakfast and at lunch, as well as more leisurely dining, especially in the evening. Usually a wider menu was available than at lunchrooms, and rarely were candies and bakery goods sold. Foodbreakfasts, noon lunches, or dinners, and both light and heavy evening mealswere the emphasis (see fig. 1.6). Occupying an ordinary storefront was Tingles' Café in Asheville, North Carolina, pictured about 1935 (see fig. 1.7). Although little had changed inside the restaurant since its opening in 1918, the exterior facade displayed a new neon sign configured in the "modern" style. Banks and other sources of finance capital encouraged restaurants in standard retail spaces. Should a restaurant fail, as Tingles' surely had not, its space could be readily occupied by another business, even of a very different kind.
Standardized commercial space in main-street and downtown business blocksrectangular in shape with one narrow end to sidewalk and streetset a template driving much standardization in restaurant arrangement town to town, city to city Space was organized similarly at Ellis' Café in Huntington, Indiana, depicted in a 1930s postcard, and at Derby's Café in Chamberlain, South Dakota, depicted in the 1950s (see figs. 1.8 and 1.9). Ellis' was recommended by the American Automobile Association and listed in its guidebook.
Beginning in the 1930s, and accelerating after World War II, main-street cafés "modernized." Not only were signs upgraded, but whole facades were replaced. Adopted were "open fronts" with wide expanses of glass. Brightly lit, interiors were opened to street view, especially at night. An interior, replete with fixtures streamlined in light-reflecting materials, showed like a kind of sign to be read easily by passing motorists. The storefront had to accomplish several objectives, wrote one promoter of glass reconstruction. "It must be the medium that identifies the restaurant and sets it apart from others. It must reflect character, quality and cleanliness to the potential patrons. It must present easy access to the interior."
Main-street cafés were important places for socializing, counter and stool and table and booth offering seating arrangements conducive to categories of social interaction. The café became so well known to so many that novelists, like Sinclair Lewis, could regularly place characters in fictional café settings without need of explaining social implications. In Lewis's 1926 novel Oil!, a young boy, the narrator of the book, enters the Elite Café with his father. "Dad was in his element in a place like this. He liked to 'josh' the waitress; he knew all kinds of comic things to say, funny names for things to eat. He would order his eggs 'sunnyside up' or 'with their eyes open, please.'" Today, the once-ubiquitous main-street café has all but disappeared. Journalist Gary Thatcher has offered a guide to their discovery, at least in his part of the country, the American South. Look for a family name, he writes. "Watch out for anyplace that starts with 'La' or 'El,'" he warns. A sign near the door advising that the Rotary Club meets there is a good omen. Somewhere will be displayed a photo of the owner's family. On counters and tables, glass sugar dispensers, with screw-on pouring tops, stand erect. Look also for bottles of ketchup and vinegar. William Least Heat Moon, in his classic travel narrative, Blue Highways, identifies calendarsno fewer than five clearly displayedas the critical cue to quality café tradition.
Cafeterias and Automats
Emulating the factory assembly line, customers pushed trays along elongated counters, putting together their own meals as they moved along a cafeteria line. The all-male Exchange Buffet, opened in New York City in 1885, may have been the earliest restaurant utilizing self-service. The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) operated some of the earliest serving lines at its downtown facilities in eastern cities. William and Samuel Childs, at several of their lunchrooms, also innovated buffet counters with customer cues about 1898. The cafeteria idea spread so rapidly that people in various parts of the country came to claim the cafeteria as their own. So popular did the new restaurant form become along the Pacific Coast that California was dubbed "the Cafeteria Belt." It was in Los Angeles that Helen Mosher opened her cafeteria in 1905 with all female cooks. But it was in the American South and Southwest that cafeterias enjoyed persisting popularity well beyond World War II. As John Mariani points out, the cafeteria struck "just the proper balance of formality and traditionalism, serving a solid old-fashioned Southern cookinghot biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, turkey with corn-bread dressing, fried catfish, mashed potatoes, numerous vegetables, and congealed salads." Southern hospitality played out with waiters carrying customer trays.
Required was a large-scale operation to bring costs per serving down to profitable levels. The typical establishment, as, for example, Cleveland's Blue Boar Cafeteria (shown about 1940), occupied a large room, along one end of which ran a cafeteria line (see fig. 1.10). Most cafeteria lines were organized with trays and silverware first, then desserts, salads, entrees, and drinks. The hungry customer was tempted by dessert before common sense or a tray loaded with other food intervened. Clearly, cafeterias were for heavy meals rather than light fare. Yet, with assembly-line speed, even a full repast could be obtained and consumed in relatively little time. Cafeterias remained popular with older Americans living on fixed incomes.