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The first automat, at 13 Leipziger Straße, Berlin, Germany; 1897 (Max Sielaff[1][2])
Food ticket machine in Japan, 2022

An automat is a fast food restaurant where simple foods and drinks are served by vending machines and there is typically no waitstaff. The world's first automat, Quisisana, opened in Berlin, Germany in 1895.

By country[edit]


An automat in East Berlin, 1954

The first automat in the world was the Quisisana automat, which opened in 1895 in Berlin, Germany.[3] A similar restaurant existed in Breslau in 1904.[4]


In Japan, in addition to regular vending machines which sell prepared food, many restaurants also use food ticket machines (Japanese: 食券機, romanizedshokkenki), where one purchases a meal ticket from a vending machine, then presents the ticket to a server, who then prepares and serves the meal. Conveyor belt sushi restaurants are also popular.


Close up of an automat in Efteling
A Smullers automat/snack bar at Den Haag Centraal railway station

Automats (Dutch: automatiek) provide a variety of typical Dutch fried fast food, such as frikandellen and croquettes, but also hamburgers and sandwiches from vending machines that are back-loaded from a kitchen. FEBO is the best-known chain of Dutch automats. Some outlets are open 24 hours a day, and are popular with locals, and those leaving clubs and bars late at night. The Dutch concept has been successfully exported overseas.[clarification needed]

United States[edit]

818 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, site of first U.S. Horn & Hardart Automat, with original Automat sign in July 2020

The first automat in the U.S. was opened June 12, 1902, at 818 Chestnut St.[2] in Philadelphia by Horn & Hardart; Horn & Hardart became the most prominent American automat chain.[5] Inspired by Max Sielaff's AUTOMAT Restaurants in Berlin, they became among the first 47 restaurants, and the first non-Europeans, to receive patented vending machines from Sielaff's Berlin factory.[2] The automat was brought to New York City[2] in 1912,[6] and gradually became part of popular culture in northern industrial cities.

Originally, the machines in U.S. automats took only nickels.[7] In the original format, a cashier sat in a change booth[citation needed] in the center of the restaurant, behind a wide marble counter with five to eight rounded depressions. The diner would insert the required number of coins in a machine and then lift a window, hinged at the top, and remove the meal, usually wrapped in waxed paper. The machines were replenished from the kitchen behind. All or most New York automats had a cafeteria-style steam table where patrons could slide a tray along rails and choose foods.

The automats were popular with a wide variety of patrons, including Walter Winchell, Irving Berlin and other celebrities of the era. The New York automats were popular with unemployed songwriters and actors. Playwright Neil Simon called automats "the Maxim's of the disenfranchised" in a 1987 article.[8]

The format was threatened by the arrival of fast food, served over the counter and with more payment flexibility than traditional automats. By the 1970s, the automats' remaining appeal in their core urban markets was strictly nostalgic. Another contributing factor to their demise was the inflation of the 1970s, increasing food prices which made the use of coins increasingly inconvenient in a time before bill acceptors commonly appeared on vending equipment.[citation needed]

At one time, there were 40 Horn & Hardart automats in New York City alone. The last one closed in 1991. Horn and Hardart converted most of its New York City locations to Burger King. At the time, the quality of the food was described by some customers as on the decline.[8][9]

2000s US revivals[edit]

In an attempt to bring back automats in New York City, a company called Bamn! opened a new East Village Dutch-style automat store in 2006,[10] but it closed in 2009.[11] In 2015, another attempt was made, by a San Francisco company called Eatsa, which opened six automated restaurants in California, New York and the District of Columbia, but closed them all by 2019. The company rebranded itself as Brightloom, and continues to sell automation technology to restaurants (which includes software for ordering kiosks, mobile apps, digital signage, etc., to facilitate order pickup).

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a new wave of automat revival attempts, to adapt to the disease and the desire for contactless dining. Joe Scutellaro and Bob Baydale opened an Automat Kitchen in Jersey City's Newport Centre shopping mall in early 2021, which used technology similar to what Brightloom offers, and specialized in fresh food,[12][13] however it closed after just a year of operation because of low foot traffic due to COVID.[14] Another is the Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, which is open in the East Village, not far from the Bamn! location.[15]

Rail transport[edit]

A form of the automat was used on some passenger trains. The Great Western Railway in the United Kingdom announced plans in December 1945 to introduce automat buffet cars.[16] Plans were delayed by impending nationalisation, and an automat was finally introduced on the Cambrian Coast Express, in 1962.[17]

In the United States, the Pennsylvania Railroad introduced an automat between Pennsylvania Station, New York City and Union Station, Washington, DC, in 1954.[18] Southern Pacific Railroad introduced automat buffet cars on the Coast Daylight and Sunset Limited in 1962. Amtrak converted four buffet cars to automats in 1985 for use on the Auto Train. The last one in use in the United States was on the short-lived Lake Country Limited in 2001.

In Switzerland, Bodensee–Toggenburg Bahn introduced automat buffet cars, in 1987.[19]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Diehl, Lorraine B.; Hardart, Marianne (November 19, 2002). The Automat: The History, Recipes, and Allure of Horn & Hardart's Masterpiece. New York: Clarkson_Potter. ISBN 978-0-609-61074-9. OCLC 1298810185.[20][21][22]
  • Automatic restaurants, Der Spiegel
  • Meet Me at the Automat By Carolyn Hughes Crowley, Smithsonian
  • Before Horn & Hardart: European automats
  • The Automat, an east coast oasis
  • "The Last Automat," by James T. Farrell (New York (magazine), May 14, 1979)
  • Horst Prillinger Automatenrestaurant Quisisana, Mariahilfer Straße 34 im 7, Vienna, Austria, 1972


  1. ^ Bernardo Friese, grandson of Max Sielaff
  2. ^ a b c d Automat-Restaurants – AUTOMAT GmbH, 23 Spenerstrasse, Berlin, N.W. :: Trade Catalogs and Pamphlets - OCLC
  3. ^ Smith, A.F.; Oliver, G. (2015). Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover's Companion to New York City. Oxford University Press, Incorporated. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-19-939702-0. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  4. ^ "Postkarte Carte Postale 33547134 Breslau Niederschlesien Restaurant Automat Breslau Niederschlesien: Manuscript / Paper Collectible | Versandhandel Boeger".
  5. ^ "Horn & Hardart Automat, 968 6th Ave. between 35th & 36th Sts. (1986)", 36th Street, New York City Signs -- 14th to 42nd Street.
  6. ^ "Automats become a thing of the past in New York". Free Lance-Star. (Fredericksburg, Virginia). Associated Press. December 31, 1977. p. 12.
  7. ^ a b Lui, Claire (2006). "Bamn! The Automat Is Back – Restaurant – Food & Drink". American Heritage Magazine. Archived from the original on 2007-10-20. Retrieved 2015-03-15.
  8. ^ a b Barron, James (April 11, 1991). "Last Automat Closes, Its Era Long Gone". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-07-16.
  9. ^ "New York's Last Automat Closes". St. Petersburg Times. Associated Press. April 11, 1991. Retrieved 2009-07-16.
  10. ^ Matthews, Karen (August 28, 2006). "Updated Automat to open in New York City". Associated Press. Retrieved 2006-08-28.
  11. ^ Amanda Kludt (March 9, 2009). "The Shutter: Felled Bamn! to Become Baoguette?". Eater NY.
  12. ^ Charlesworth, Michelle (January 27, 2021). "Blast from the past: Automat returns with a modern twist". ABC 7 Eyewitness News. Retrieved 2021-02-06.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ Hamstra, Mark (February 3, 2021). "Automat Kitchen puts modern spin on classic no-contact format". Restaurant Hospitality. Archived from the original on 2021-02-03. Retrieved 2021-02-06.
  14. ^ "Automat Kitchen at Newport Mall is a goner". 4 June 2022.
  15. ^ Warerkar, Tanay (January 21, 2021). "A First Look at Brooklyn Dumpling Shop's Automat". Eater New York. Archived from the original on 2021-01-20. Retrieved 2021-02-06.
  16. ^ "Automat Buffet Cars For British Railways". Reuters. 26 December 1945.
  17. ^ "Railway Gazette". The Railway Gazette. 119: 709. 1963.
  18. ^ "Automatic Buffet-Bar Car Introduced By Pennsy". Locomotive Engineers Journal. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. 88: 236. 1954.
  19. ^ Allen, Geoffrey Freeman, ed. (1988). Jane's World Railways. Jane's Yearbooks. p. 700. ISBN 0-7106-0871-3.
  20. ^ Diehl, Lorraine B.; Hardart, Marianne. "The Automat: The History, Recipes, and Allure of Horn & Hardart's Masterpiece". Catalog. Library of Congress. Retrieved 4 June 2022. Sample text for Library of Congress control number 2001057805
  21. ^ Trufelman, Avery (4 June 2019). "The Automat". 99% Invisible. Retrieved 4 June 2022.
  22. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: The Automat: The History, Recipes, and Allure of Horn & Hardart's Masterpiece by Marianne Hardart, Lorraine B. Diehl". Publishers Weekly. 1 November 2002. Retrieved 4 June 2022.
  23. ^ "Archivmeldung: Wien Museum Karlsplatz zeigt "Um die Wurst"". Presseservice der Stadt Wien (in German). 1 June 2005. Retrieved 4 June 2022. "Um die Wurst" ergänzt die seit 12. Mai laufende Sonderausstellung "Die Sinalco-Epoche. Essen, Trinken, Konsumieren nach 1945", die noch bis zum 25. September zu sehen ist.

External links[edit]