The American Luncheonette
“I’ll see you at the luncheonette” is not a phrase most people hear anymore in America and most people wouldn’t even recognize the term luncheonette. A luncheonette is similar to a diner, but is not a diner – the biggest differences being that a diner has a larger range of food and is a full restaurant.
The main focus of a luncheonette was to serve lunch and was commonly seen inside the local five and dime store; it was a way to feed hungry customers and procure more business. Most people remember them from a popular store called Woolworth’s. Privately owned satellite luncheonettes were often seen in shopping districts that featured small shops and boutiques instead of a department store. It isn’t uncommon to find a small grocery, pharmacy, or retail store in a satellite luncheonette.
Luncheonettes are famous for their counter seating with a row or two of additional tables and a simple, limited menu. The menu usually consisted of popular sandwiches (egg salad, banana and jelly, hot meat favorites, grilled cheese, etc), soup (typically two options), popular salads (chef salad, fruit salad, coleslaw, etc), a wide variety of desserts (pies, cakes, ice cream, etc), fountain drinks, and other drinks (coffee, tea, ovaltine, postum, hot chocolate). Occasionally, luncheonettes featured a breakfast special or even a dinner special. The food was comforting and usually cost a few cents per meal.
These trendy lunch counters faded out in the 70s, though some do remain in the larger cities in America.
In several places fast food chains have taken over as the new form of a luncheonette, but they have the stigma of unhealthy food. A good example of this would be the Starbucks counter inside Barnes & Noble.
In popular media, these luncheonettes are somewhat overlooked and have simply faded into the background. Popular films that you may recall a luncheonette are: in ‘King Creole’ Elvis diverts attention at a 5-and-Dime for some thieves; in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ Doloris works at a larger-than-normal satellite luncheonette; and, in ‘The Departed’ Leonardo DiCaprio beats up two guys in a modern luncheonette.
Video: “King Creole”
Video: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
Video: “The Departed”
Written by: Jessie Desmond