A Horn & Hardart postcard explaining how food was served in an automat (c. 1930s)
“Originally, the machines in U.S. automats took only nickels. In the original format, a cashier sat in a change booth in the center of the restaurant, behind a wide marble counter with five to eight rounded depressions. The diner would insert the required number of coins in a machine and then lift a window, hinged at the top, and remove the meal, usually wrapped in waxed paper. The machines were replenished from the kitchen behind. All or most New York automats had a cafeteria-style steam table where patrons could slide a tray along rails and choose foods, which were ladled from tureens.”
“Long before McDonald’s, Burger King or KFC, there was Horn & Hardart. The company’s coin-operated Automats were wonders of speed and efficiency, and Horn & Hardart quickly grew to become the world’s largest restaurant chain and the founding father of a fast food nation. A century after Horn & Hardart Automats first arrived in Manhattan, we take a look back at these giant vending machines.
“New Method of Lunching,” cried out the advertisement to readers of the July 2, 1912, edition of The New York Times. “Try It! You’ll Like It!!” the ad promised.
Curious—and hungry—readers who followed the culinary entreaties and stepped inside the Horn & Hardart Company’s “Automat Lunch Room” in Times Square for its grand opening a century ago found a high-tech, self-service wonder. A gigantic, coin-operated vending machine with row upon row of windowed compartments, resembling glass-fronted post office boxes, housed dozens of menu items. After window shopping, customers could drop a nickel into a coin slot, turn a knob, lift up the door and help themselves to their food.”
“Not all foodies of the early 20th century celebrated the rise of the Automat. “The number of cheap quick-fire food hells is appalling,” bemoaned James Huneker in The New York Times in 1914. “Eating and drinking are rapidly entering the category of the lost fine arts,” he lamented. “The young folk nowadays are not epicures… They are in too much of a hurry to dance or to ride, to sit long at table and dine with discrimination.”***
***Remind you of parents talking about electronic devices these days?😂
(This info from Google)