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

An automat is a type of fast-food restaurant where food and drink are served through a vending machine, typically without waitstaff. The world's first automat, Quisisana, opened in Berlin, Germany in 1895.[3][4]

By country[edit]


An automat in East Berlin, 1954

The first documented automat was Quisisana, which opened in 1895 in Berlin, Germany.[5] In 1904, a similar restaurant opened in Breslau.[6]


In Japan, in addition to vending machines that sell prepared food, many restaurants also use food ticket machines (Japanese: 食券機, romanizedshokkenki). This process involves purchasing a meal ticket from a vending machine, which is then presented to a server who prepares and serves the meal.

Kaitenzushi restaurants, which serve sushi on conveyor belts, are also common in Japan.[7]


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, as well as hamburgers and sandwiches from vending machines which are back-loaded from a kitchen.

FEBO is the best-known chain of Dutch automats, with some outlets open 24 hours a day. [8]

United States[edit]

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

The first automat in the United States was opened by food services company Horn & Hardart on June 12, 1902, at 818 Chestnut St.[2] in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[9] Inspired by Max Sielaff's automat restaurants in Berlin, they were among the first 47 restaurants (and the first outside of Europe) to receive patented vending machines from Sielaff's Berlin factory.[2] The automat spread to New York City[2] in 1912,[10] and gradually became part of popular culture in northern industrial cities.

Originally, the machines in U.S. automats only accepted nickels.[11] A cashier sat in a change booth 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, which was usually wrapped in waxed paper. The kitchen was located behind the machines and used to replenish them from the rear.[12]

Automats were popular with a wide variety of celebrity patrons, including Walter Winchell and Irving Berlin. The New York automats were also popular with unemployed songwriters and actors. Playwright Neil Simon called automats "the Maxim's of the disenfranchised" in 1987.[13]

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

At one time, there were 40 Horn & Hardart automats in New York City. The last one closed in 1991, when the company had converted most of its New York City locations into Burger King restaurants. At the time, customers had been noticing a decrease in the quality of the food.[13][14]

2000s US revivals[edit]

In an attempt to revive automats, a company called Bamn! opened a Dutch-style automat store in the East Village in New York City in 2006,[15] only to close three years later.[16] In 2015, another attempt to open an automat was made by a San Francisco company called Eatsa, which opened six automated restaurants in California, New York, and the District of Columbia, but they all closed by 2019. The company soon rebranded itself as Brightloom, and continue to sell automation technology to restaurants.

The COVID-19 pandemic inspired a new wave of automat revival attempts, aimed to adapt to the social distancing guidelines and the desire for contactless dining. Joe Scutellaro and Bob Baydale opened Automat Kitchen, which specialized in fresh food, in Jersey City's Newport Centre in early 2021;[17][18] however, it closed after one year of operation because of low foot traffic due to the pandemic.[19] Another automat chain, the Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, opened in the East Village in 2021;[20] they opened a chain in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in December 2023.[21]

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 an automat on buffet cars.[22] Plans were delayed by impending nationalisation, but an automat was finally introduced on the Cambrian Coast Express in 1962.[23]

In the United States, the Pennsylvania Railroad introduced an automat between Pennsylvania Station, New York City, and Union Station, Washington, DC, in 1954.[24] 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.

In Switzerland, the Bodensee–Toggenburg Bahn introduced automat buffet cars in 1987.[25]

With the advent of air travel and other forms of transportation, automats on trains became less popular and were eventually phased out. The last automat in use on a train in the United States was on the short-lived Lake Country Limited in 2001.

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.[26][27][28]
  • 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 Automaten restaurant 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. ^ "The Return of the Automat". Food & Wine. Retrieved 2024-01-29.
  4. ^ Williams, Addison (2020-07-23). "Automat History | What is an Automat Restaurant?". History Associates Incorporated. Retrieved 2024-01-29.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "Postkarte Carte Postale 33547134 Breslau Niederschlesien Restaurant Automat Breslau Niederschlesien: Manuscript / Paper Collectible | Versandhandel Boeger".
  7. ^ Feng Hsin-I, Cindy (2011). "The Tale of Sushi: History and Regulations". Institute of Food Technologists. 11: 206–207 – via Wiley Online Library.
  8. ^ Brenner, Elysia (2014-02-05). "Power-ranking the FEBO automat's wall of food". Thrillist. Retrieved 2024-01-31.
  9. ^ "Horn & Hardart Automat, 968 6th Ave. between 35th & 36th Sts. (1986)", 36th Street, New York City Signs -- 14th to 42nd Street.
  10. ^ "Automats become a thing of the past in New York". Free Lance-Star. (Fredericksburg, Virginia). Associated Press. December 31, 1977. p. 12.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b Barron, James (April 11, 1991). "Last Automat Closes, Its Era Long Gone". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-07-16.
  14. ^ "New York's Last Automat Closes". St. Petersburg Times. Associated Press. April 11, 1991. Retrieved 2009-07-16.
  15. ^ Matthews, Karen (August 28, 2006). "Updated Automat to open in New York City". Associated Press. Retrieved 2006-08-28.
  16. ^ Amanda Kludt (March 9, 2009). "The Shutter: Felled Bamn! to Become Baoguette?". Eater NY.
  17. ^ Charlesworth, Michelle (January 27, 2021). "Blast from the past: Automat returns with a modern twist". ABC 7 Eyewitness News. Retrieved 2021-02-06.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ "Automat Kitchen at Newport Mall is a goner". 4 June 2022.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Sheehan, Jason (2023-12-12). "South Street is Getting a New Dumpling Automat". Philadelphia Magazine. Retrieved 2024-02-01.
  22. ^ "Automat Buffet Cars For British Railways". Reuters. 26 December 1945.
  23. ^ "Railway Gazette". The Railway Gazette. 119: 709. 1963.
  24. ^ "Automatic Buffet-Bar Car Introduced By Pennsy". Locomotive Engineers Journal. 88. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers: 236. 1954.
  25. ^ Allen, Geoffrey Freeman, ed. (1988). Jane's World Railways. Jane's Yearbooks. p. 700. ISBN 0-7106-0871-3.
  26. ^ 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
  27. ^ Trufelman, Avery (4 June 2019). "The Automat". 99% Invisible. Retrieved 4 June 2022.
  28. ^ "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.
  29. ^ "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]