There is something particularly romantic about a cafeteria. Don't ask me what it is because I can't tell you. Maybe it's related to the automat, the first cousin to the cafeteria.
The automat (top) was the wonderful invention where, for the right amount of nickels, you could open a tiny door to a piece of cherry pie, some mashed potatoes, or a nice piece of ham. Although considered somewhat plain and boring, during the Depression, or the war, the automat was the poor-man's fancy restaurant, the working woman's only square meal of the day.
The cafeteria, invented sometime in the late years of the 19th century, was all of this and a little more: a buffet set up wherein you would pay for what you selected. Or, in the case of the wonderful Clifton's cafeterias in California (bottom), pay only what you wished to pay. (In 1946, Clifton's employed more than 600 staff, serving more than 20,000 meals daily.)
I love cafeterias; and it is sad to report that one of the last major cafeterias in southern California is about to close.
Well, we in Phoenix still have Bishop's which, in our neck of the woods used to be called Furr's, which won out in the competition against Luby's. Sigh. The world moves on too fast.
More on Clifton's can be found here.
More on the last major cafeteria in southern California can be found here.