Horn and Hardart

You walk in and throw some money into a slot and the window opens and you get your food. Instant gratification.

I’m not sure why this idea died. I kind of like it.

Is it that if the place wasn’t so hopping it could seem like your sandwich was sitting around for a few hours?


Horn & Hardart was known as the first automated fast food joint, or “Automats.” Here, you could purchase food already laid out and prepared for you from behind a glass window.

All you had to do was grab what you wanted and pay for it as you would with a vending machine. It was this unique experience that kept customers flocking back for more, which is why it became so famous.

Although this seemed like the easiest way to get food on the go, without having to line up behind a check-out counter.

Sadly the last Horn & Hardart location closed in 1991.

16 Comments on Horn and Hardart

  1. Wow. Segregated automats. Not a single white coffee urn, only black. And some racist is stealing that!

  2. I fondly remember them from when I was a kid–it was so cool to grab a slice of lemon meringue pie. Good times!

  3. I vaguely remember eating something from an automat, but don’t remember where or when. Had to have been as a kid in perhaps Buffalo or the Loop. Anyone know of an automat in either place? Prior to 1963?

    Gov lawyer, I vaguely remember lemon pie at such a place. Good idea. Should return.

  4. i preferred eating here and their spaghetti, roast and turkey dinners were great and less than two dollars, the baby boomer and flower children thought it was beneath them so cafeterias and vender machines died off.

  5. H&H used to have their own line of baked beans you could buy at the grocery store that were pretty damn good. They came in a aluminum pan and their offending capability was like a 7/10 IIRC.

  6. I guess you have to be old and urban to remember that.
    I’m just old.

    Never saw an automat to my recollection.

    I don’t wish to see their return, either.

    I’ll have a slice of lemon meringue pie and a cup of coffee. Black.
    Thanks Flo.

    I’ll enjoy it here at the diner counter, thank you.

  7. My folks used to take us to Clifton’s Cafeteria in L.A. All kinds of little dishes filled with so many kinds of goodies. You would pick out what you wanted and put it on a giant tray. They had a Treasure Chest with prizes for the kids as you left. Kind of like IKEA only better and lots more choices. There was also GoodyGoody drive-in Santa Monica. Darn! Now I’m starving for a giant cheeseburger and fries!

  8. I remember eating with my dad in the one on 42nd outside Grand Central. Those coffee cups weighed a ton

  9. The BEST food fight in an automat is in the movie “Easy Living” with Jean Arthur, Ray Milland, Edward Arnold and a great supporting cast.

    It’s on YT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xguNnDu8ShI

    The whole movie is a romp, but if you just want to see the automat, go to the 36:53 mark.

    Other favorite automat scenes are in “That Touch of Mink” with Doris Day and Cary Grant. Day and her friend/roommate carry on a long conversation from both sides of the vending doors while her friend slips her a free, five-course meal.

    I wish they’d bring them back. Yesterday’s automats are today’s buffet.

  10. @AA-the nice thing about the automat/cafeteria was tidiness and PORTION CONTROL! I gave up on buffets and salad bars a long time ago what with misbehaving children and people licking their fingers. I think cafeterias could make a comeback, though. Here’s hoping!

  11. PHenry, I guess I’m just old as well. The closest I ever came to automated food was a hospital cafeteria back in the 80’s. They had a little turn wheel thing, you’d open it and grab your food out, dinners on top, deserts in the middle and bread on the bottom, but you still had to stop at the cash register and pay for it.

  12. @ ghost of brig gen j glover
    @ A A
    @ BFH
    Thank you bunches for the thread topic and the movie suggestions. Gonna try to find them for tonight’s viewing. Need some laughs.

  13. As a child, these places came across as cold, impersonal, and love-less. It’s like the human part was being erased. One step closer to a dystopian society like A Brave New World.

    I had a natural aversion to them for these reasons.

    When anything gets described as “a new world” or “a new normal” – my hackles are up.

  14. I ate at one as a teenager approx 1970. My Grandma lived in Brooklyn. They were known for having the best, freshest coffee anywhere.


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