Date: Wed, 22 Nov 1995 22:38:42 -0800
From: "J.Russell King" jrking[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]IX.NETCOM.COM
Subject: "Dining Hall"
"Dining hall" always worked for me. If nothing else, it's two
syllables shorter than "cafeteria," which is an advantage for a
word you use a lot.
This is veering away from political correctness back to more strictly
linguistic area, I suppose, but I was struck by this post and the ones
that prompted it.
In my own personal lexicon, "cafeteria" connotes a place where the
offerings are individually priced: a fish filet is $2.25, a dish of
green beans (or string beans) is 55 cents, a carton of milk is 40
cents, a pat of butter is three cents. The patron chooses individual
items and is charged accordingly. Where the patron is served a set meal
at a set price, even if he picks up a plastic tray and stands in line
to be served, is not a cafeteria, nor is a place where one picks and
chooses among numerous offerings but is charged the same total price no
Thus the place I ate in grade school, where there were no choices, you
ate what the little old hair-netted ladies dished out, was not a
cafeteria, it was the "lunchroom." When we got to high school, and
could choose the 55-cent hamburger or the 75-cent chicken fried steak,
it was a "cafeteria." And then in college, where we could choose the
hamburger or the chicken fried steak or the yogurt, but whatever we
chose it was going to cost $1800 a year regardless, it was the "dining
center" or one of the "dining halls" or "dining rooms," not a
cafeteria. In the commercial context, the Furr's and Luby's chains (or
the greatest of all, Bryce's in Texarkana) are "cafeterias," but I'd
never refer to the elaborate "hot food bar" setups at chain steakhouses
and the like as a "cafeteria"; generically, they are "buffets."
Is this how-you-pay distinction not inherent in others' understanding
and use of the term "cafeteria"?
(And then there are the Korean delis which offer a slightly more
noodle-oriented version of Ponderosa's hot food bar except you pay by
the ounce instead of a set price -- a system that falls outside either
"cafeteria" or "buffet" in my language.)
deputy news editor
The New York Times