Or, Whatever Happened to Horn & Hardart?

Man getting food at vintage automat

It all sounds so futuristic: a restaurant without waiters, without workers behind the counter, without any visible employees whatsoever, where you simply feed your money into a glass-enclosed kiosk, remove a steaming plate of freshly made food, 和 carry it to your table. Welcome to Horn & Hardart, circa 1950, a restaurant chain that once boasted 40 locations in 纽约市 与数十家横跨美国,在当自动机服务了数百每天数以千计的城市客户的现在遥远的时间。




As with so many other societal trends, it was in turn-of-the-century New York that automats really took off. The first New York Horn & Hardart opened in 1912, and soon the chain had hit on an appealing formula: customers exchanged dollar bills for h和fuls of nickels (from attractive women behind glass booths, wearing rubber tips on their fingers), then fed their change into 自动售货机, turned the knobs, and extracted plates of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and cherry pie, among hundreds of other menu items. Dining was communal 和 cafeteria-style, to the extent that Horn & Hardart automats were considered a valuable corrective to the snobbery of so many 纽约市 restaurants.


It's not widely known today, but Horn & Hardart was also the first New York restaurant chain to offer its customers 现煮咖啡, for a nickel a cup. Employees were instructed to discard any pots that had been sitting for 更多 than twenty minutes, a level of quality control that inspired Irving Berlin to compose the song "Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee" (which quickly became Horn & Hardart's official jingle). There wasn't much (if any) choice, but in terms of reliability, Horn & Hardart could be considered the 1950's equivalent of Starbucks.


Given all the high-tech accouterments and lack of visible personnel, Horn & Hardart customers could be forgiven for thinking that their food had been prepared and handled 通过 robots. Of course, that wasn't the case, and an argument can be made that automats succeeded at the expense of their hard-working employees. The managers of these restaurants still had to hire human beings to cook, convey food to the 自动售货机, and wash the silverware and dishes--but since all this activity went on behind the scenes, they got away with paying below-par wages 和 forcing employees to work overtime. In August of 1937, 在AFL-CIO picketed Horn & Hardarts across the city, protesting the chain's unfair labor practices.

In its heyday, Horn & Hardart succeeded partly because its eponymous founders refused to rest on their laurels. Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart ordered any food uneaten at the end of the day to be delivered to cut-price, "day-old" outlets, and also circulated a hefty, leather-bound rule book that instructed employees on the proper cooking and handling of hundreds of menu items. Horn and Hardart (the founders, not the restaurant) also constantly tinkered with their formula, assembling as often as possible at a "sample table" where they 和 their chief executives voted thumbs up or thumbs down on new menu items.


By the 1970s, automats like Horn & Hardart were fading in popularity, 和 the culprits were easy to identify. First, fast-food chains like 麦当劳 和肯德基提供非常有限的菜单,但更可识别的“口味”,他们也享受着较低的劳动力和食品成本的好处。第二,城镇职工不太倾向于圈点的天,悠闲的午餐,配有前菜,主菜,甜点,以及优先抢在飞行便餐;一个设想,在1970年的纽约财政危机也鼓励更多的人从家里带来的饭菜到办公室。


By the end of the decade, Horn & Hardart gave in to the inevitable and converted most of its 纽约市 locations into Burger King franchises; the last Horn & Hardart, on Third Avenue and 42nd Street, finally went out of business in 1991. Today, the only place you can see what Horn & Hardart looked like is in the Smithsonian Institution, which harbors a 35-foot-long chunk of the original 1902 restaurant, 和 this chain's surviving 自动售货机 are said to languish in a warehouse in upstate New York.


No good idea ever truly disappears, though. Eatsa, which opened in San Francisco in 2015, seems unlike Horn & Hardart in every way conceivable: every item on the menu is made with quinoa, 和 ordering is done via an iPad, after a brief interaction with a virtual maître d'. But the basic concept is the same: with no human interaction at all, a customer can watch as her meal almost magically materializes in a small cub通过 flashing her name. In the food industry, it seems, the more things change, the 更多 they stay the same!