Diners – an American tradition whose days are numbered

Like many of my fellow baby boomers I grew up going to diners. They came in many forms – chain and independent. Friendly’s for instance was a chain diner as was Denny’s. My favorite diners were and still are independent ones although when traveling the highways and byways of the U.S. a Friendly’s or Denny’s is still a welcome site.

Over the weekend I traveled to the Jersey Shore (it was decidedly not a search for Snooki or J-Wow BTW) and had occasion to stop at a diner for breakfast early on a Sunday morning. This particular diner owned and operated by a Greek family (no surprise there) appeared like many to be a vestige from the 1960’s, complete with the rotating dessert case showcasing attractive cakes and pies that were baked I don’t know when.

And don’t forget the placemats. When it comes to placemats there is the evidence of the marriage between local diners and local businesses, and it is in full bloom when one looks at the placemats chock full of ads. That always interested me since I have a perception (which I can neither prove nor disprove) that as many out-of-towners eat in diners as locals – which would mean if I am right, half the audience is relatively uninterested and of little value. It is not easy to get specific demographic and psychographic data related to diners alone since restaurants are not categorized in that fashion.
Diners are uniquely American although there are some found in parts of Western Europe. And no lie – the first diner (at least according to Wikipedia) was created in 1872 by Walter Scott (Witzel) who worked at a printing press. Apparently we printing folks have been continually trying to find a new occupation for more than 140 years.

Diners are frequently open 24 hours. However when one finds themselves in a diner at 3:00 AM it is rarely a sign of good things. The food can be good at diners but in my experience ordering ‘safe’ food makes the most sense – eggs, grilled cheese, etc. Greek diners often offer Greek specialties like gyros and chicken, beef, or lamb souvlaki and those are also what I would consider to be safe choices.

Why do I think diners are on the way out? Not just because everyone has no time to do anything but to go to Starbuck’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, but the speed at which America operates today is in stark contrast to a diner experience which often ends up making me feel as if I’ve entered the land that time forgot. Diners take too long, the food is too often mediocre at best and to me they seem to be much more expensive than they should be. And the selections could not be more boring particularly when compared to the change in the American palate which requires spicier and edgier menu choices, something diners decidedly do not offer.

I’ve posted before that Denny’s is on to something with the retro refitting of its units and their value meals at $2/$4/$6/$8. So maybe Denny’s can help continue the tradition. There has already been one revival in the 1970’s when diners were built in a retro-type fashion harkening back to halcyon days when America was a simpler and gentler place (if you actually believe that). In fact Webster’s dictionary refers to diners as ‘a restaurant usually resembling a dining car in shape’. I did not know that did you?
Diners will not disappear entirely but I think they will for the most part go the way of the Automat (yes I’ve been around long enough to have been to Horn and Hardart but that’s another story altogether). I will miss diners when they are few and far between.
How about you? Do you like diners or have you long since passed them by?

About markkolier

Futurist, entrepreneur, left lane driver, baseball lover
This entry was posted in Best business practices, Community, Living in the World Today, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Diners – an American tradition whose days are numbered

  1. Tom says:

    Recently traveling the Pennsylvania turnpike, it seemed that the food options at rest stops are dominated by a limited number franchise chains. Only once off the turnpike and on to the back roads did diners start to appear at small towns or road intersections. The local diner in Limerick, PA, was just as you described it – extensive menu, bland food, placemat full of ads (fascinating) and the rotating dessert display. For non-Americans and visiting ex-pats, the friendliness of the employees AND other clientele was almost scary. A little bit of Americana that seems to be rapidly disappearing. I will miss it.


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