Drop your nickels into the slot.
Turn the knob.
Open the door.
Dinner is Served.
That was the concept and thrill behind the popular restaurants/cafeterias called automats.
The first automat in the United States opened on June 12, 1902 at 818 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia by Horn & Hardart. New York City started using them in 1912 and gradually the automat became a part of popular culture in northern industrial cities.
Originally, the U.S. machines only took nickels. The diner patron would insert the required number of coins, lift a window which was hinged at the top, and remove their ordered wax paper wrapped meal. The automats were filled from the back end of the machines by the kitchen staff. Most New York automats also had a cafeteria-style steam table where patrons could slide a tray along rails and choose foods, which were ladled out of steaming tureens.
The automat format was threatened by the arrival of fast food in the 1970s. The remaining automat appeal in their core urban markets was strictly nostalgic. Another contributing factor to their demise was inflation during the 1970s, making the food too expensive to be bought conveniently with coins, in a time before bill acceptors commonly appeared on vending equipment.
At one time there were 40 Horn & Hardart automats in New York City alone. The last one closed in 1991. Horn and Hardart converted most of its New York City locations to Burger Kings. If you could, would you dine in a automat? Have you dinned in one? Tell us about it below! Let's take a closer look at automats!!