Today, everyone knows what a cafeteria is. From the youngest school age child to the oldest adult, it is a common word. In fact, everyone has eaten in one sometime during his or her lifetime. Cafeterias and cafeteria management companies are, however, a relatively novel concept in terms of centuries.
The Early Years
The first recorded company or institutionalized lunchroom only dates back to around 1800. It was not a cafeteria since the workers in this Scottish mill owned by Robert Owen supplied a place for his employees to sit down and eat the meal they had brought from home. It was, however, the first of what became corporate eateries. In fact, in places such as Canada and the United States, the later 1800s and early 1900s saw many factories slowly including a type of lunchroom in their building. In fact, the employees of the Bowery Savings Bank in New York did not have to bring their meals from home. They were served by waitresses in a dining room as early as 1834. Interestingly enough, the meal and the service was free.
The origins of the first cafeteria, however, are less clear. Historians disagree about the first American instance. The three major contenders are:
1. 1891: The Ogontz Lunch Club for Women in Chicago but actually implemented in 1891 at the Kansas City YWCA
2. 1885: A New York Restaurant, the Exchange Buffet, introduced self-service
3. 1893: During the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, John Kruger Chicago restaurateur called his place the Spanish word for coffee shop “cafeteria” using the self-service menu and style to attract as many customers as possible
This style of eatery soon caught on. In 1905, they could be found across the country as far as California. In Los Angeles, a woman by the name of Helen Mosher opened her simple restaurant downtown. Here, people could pick their own food, place it on trays and carry it back to their tables. As for company cafeterias – the first cafeteria management companies were the owners themselves. The first known was American firm to do so was the Plymouth Cordage Co. In 1902, this Plymouth, Massachusetts Corporation not only managed their own employee cafeteria, they had built a structure to house the kitchen, the cafeterias (2) and even a recreational facility. By 1905, this was becoming common practice for companies as they moved away from sit-down dining.
During this period, other advances were made in the food service industry regarding cafeterias and institutions. N. W. Cease and his brother working together opened the first actual food service management company. This was a cafeteria located on site at the American Locomotive Works, Dunkirk, New York.
Cafeteria Management Companies Today
Cafeterias are among the most prevalent type of food services offered by corporations today. Some companies do offer their own in-house food services. In general, however, third party, cafeteria management companies are more common. They are a component of the current corporate culture of America.