Date: Thu, 23 Nov 1995 07:11:09 -0500


Subject: Re: The Automat

The following discussion would not be complete without a discourse on the


a uniquely New York phenomenon in which the patron approached a wall of food

in individual glassed front cubicles each just large enough to contain the

food item

on a plate. Nickels, dimes and/or quarters were put into the slots at each

cubicle and the door popped open for you to obtain the food. What you saw was

what you got, with no surly help to contend with. I believe the places were

called Horn & Hardardt's Automat, but it was a long time ago. Can anybody

add some info?

Seth Sklarey

Wittgenstein School of the Unwritten Word

Coconut Grove, FL



deputy news editor

The New York Times WROTE:

"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

matter what.

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