Sitting in a window booth facing a friend, perusing a menu, I marveled at the variety of dishes available. The menu continued for pages – breakfast, lunch and dinner, senior specials, kid specials, daily specials, desserts, drinks. Whatever your pleasure if you searched hard enough you would probably find it on the menu.
How do they do it?
I have no idea and cannot begin to speculate.
I simply sit back, unwind, order and enjoy the atmosphere. Diner food is very good, sometimes good, rarely bad-but it does happen. A lot of offerings are old-fashioned, home-style food, although entrée-size salads and healthy options are now common. Prices are (usually) reasonable, even inexpensive, important to budget-conscious seniors. Actually, important to budget-conscious folks of all ages.
Another criteria diners are known for are large portions. Customers leaving with plastic containers of food are a frequent sight.
The first diner (shortened from train dining cars) is attributed to a horse-drawn food wagon operated by Walter Scott in Providence, Rhode Island. A few years later (1887) Thomas Buckley began mass-producing lunch wagons, and the wagons soon morphed into permanent structures.
Train-designed diners gained popularity after World War I. Production halted, however, in 1942 when the country geared up for World War II.
As the economy thrived during the 1950s, diners became a viable small business opportunity, and the eateries flourished in the burgeoning suburbs surrounding the country’s cities.
By the 1970s fast food and casual restaurants hurt diners, and many closed. But in certain parts of the country – predominantly New England and the Mid-Atlantic states – diners prospered.
Old style diners with long counters, booths and minimal decor have been superseded by establishments with large dining rooms furnished with tables as well as booths, chandeliers, decorative ceilings and wallpaper, carpeting, and bars. Diners in major population areas typically remain open 24 hours a day.
Growing up on Long Island I remember diners owned by Greek-Americans, and today menu items such as Greek salads, souvlaki, gyros and moussaka attest to that history. Depending on an area’s population diner owners are often immigrants, whether Italian, Jewish, Eastern European, and more recently Latino.
It took several minutes to decide what to order. Too many selections can make decision-making more difficult than choosing among limited options. Were we in the mood for breakfast or lunch foods? A diet special or should we splurge? An item from the main menu or senior special selections? How about a daily special?
I like to try something different, or something not eaten often, when dining out. Not wildly different – what if I do not like the dish? I would still have to pay for it. I opted for a Portobello Benedict – Portobello mushroom, eggs, hollandaise sauce, with a side of sliced tomatoes (instead of potatoes, a nod to my sort-of diet and healthy eating regimen. NO SARCASTIC COMMENTS about diet and the hollandaise sauce please!)
My friend and I enjoyed brunch, relaxing and savoring our meal, and getting some work done (the excuse for dining out – a working meal!). In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must admit my criteria for a wonderful meal is not high, especially when I am not the one cooking. I like to cook, but not all the time.
On our arrival mid-morning the diner was not busy and the waitress attentive, but by the time we left the lunch crowd began populating tables and the wait staff hustled.
Time to get home and think about preparing dinner.