The British cafe - normally called a "cafe" or occasionally "working men's cafe" or "transport cafe" and colloquially "caff"// or "greasy spoon" - is a small, cheap eatery typically specializing in fried foods and/or home-cooked meals. Though it uses the same word origin it is distinct from the term "café" which is generally used to refer to a coffeehouse, tea shop, or European bar serving alcohol. A British cafe does not serve alcohol. A British cafe is commonly an independently owned business; the only notable chain of roadside cafes is OK Diner since the demise of Happy Eater in 1997 and Little Chef in 2018. Increasingly, British cafes are being replaced by coffeehouses or fast-food franchises.
The traditional British cafe has been in sharp decline due to the rise of fast-food chains; they nevertheless remain numerous all over the UK, especially in certain parts of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Derby, and in many seaside towns and villages. The demand for their style of cuisine has resulted in the establishment of British-style cafes all over the world, and particularly in European coastal resorts located within an hour's coach ride from charter airlines' destinations, in which full breakfasts may be available all day.
A British cafe typically offers fried or grilled food such as an all-day "full cooked breakfast", which may contain a combination of ingredients such as fried egg, bacon, black pudding, bubble and squeak, hash browns, baked beans, fried bread, toast, mushrooms, grilled tomato, burgers, sausages, mushrooms and chips. Hot and cold sandwiches may be available, such as a bacon butty or sausage sandwich. A range of other cooked meals may be available, such as steak and kidney pie, a full roast, or liver and onions, with a cooked dessert such as apple crumble and custard. The main drink in a British cafe or greasy spoon is usually tea, especially "builder's tea" (a nickname for a mug of strong black tea, such as English breakfast tea, usually served with milk and sugar and typically robust and flavourful with a brisk character and a dark red colour). Coffee, where available, is usually instant or sometimes espresso but rarely brewed.
The cafe was the mainstay of British lorry drivers who travelled the major trunk roads such as the A1 and the A6 prior to the opening of the motorways. These cafes were not only stops where the driver could eat, but also made convenient meeting places where the trade unions could talk to their members. A British cafe that is beside a main road and serves passing motorists, particularly lorry drivers, is a transport cafe; this may or not be accompanied by a petrol station. A motorway service station (truck stop in America) will typically include one or more fast food restaurants such as Burger King, Greggs, or McDonald's, and possibly a transport cafe for the lorry drivers.
- Ace Cafe (Historic transport cafe)
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- Classic Cafes – The Very Best of London's Twentieth Century vintage Formica caffs