The History of the American Diner

The American diners that we know and love have a rich and intriguing history, stemming from quaint beginnings, all the way to the glorious splendour of Firebird’s modern gourmet diner. Today, we take you on a journey through the past as we explore the fascinating origins of the world-famous diner concept.

The Firebird Diner by Michael Mina, 2015.

Diners were defined as prefabricated fastfood restaurants that serve prepared food, and throughout history they have become so iconic that their interiors can be instantly recognised these days. The original American Diner was Walter Scott’s horsepulled wagon, from which he sold a prepared lunch through the windows of the wagon, to employees of the Providence Journal in 1872. His business endeavour began as a means of supplementing his income as a parttime journalist and he had no idea how popular it would become.

The lunch wagon, 1890-1910.

The basic but practical wagon Scott used back in Rhode Island indicates where the diner’s iconic aesthetic originally came from, however the passing trends have shaped it ever since. His lunchwagon idea caught on when Thomas Buckley began commercial production of these vehicles in 1887 in Worcestor, Massachusetts. Charles Palmer received the first patent for a NightLunch Wagon in 1893, and went on to develop the evening diner within Massachusetts, until 1901.

From the diner’s horsedrawn beginnings, the prefabricated wagons were then moved to stationary sites where they could remain permanently. They began to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner as any other cafe might, and remained popular through the ages; finally becoming a staple that was characteristic of American life.

Summit Diner: a railcar style American diner in New Jersey, 1938.

While tradesmen and women initially decorated their commercial wagons with paint and flowers, the arrival of the Space Age saw the diner’s interiors take a different stance altogether. The public became obsessed with rockets and jets as space exploration began. This new trend emphasised speed and mobility, which brought in stainless steel interiors and led to some cafes having waitresses scoot around on rollerskates to add novelty and to speed up the service.

An example of a diner influenced by rockets and jets in the Space Age.

Diners continued to be subject to the passing trends as competition from regular restaurants increased, and the popularity of the diners decreased until the retro revival of the 1970’s. During that time of economic and moral uncertainty, Americans began to look to the past to remind themselves of their more oldfashioned values as they sought stability; as a result, diners were produced in their original designs and the retro concept caught on internationally as Europe also began to develop these iconic cafes.

Today, international diners still feature the retro throwback that was popularised in the 70’s; and Firebird is a testament to that fact. We have brought the basic food wagon from rags to riches with our divine and plush interiors, and gourmet take on the classic American recipes. The spirit of the American diner is still strong, and will remain so for centuries to come; visit us at Firebird to enjoy an authentic, upmarket diner experience.

Retro inspired interiors at Firebird’s restaurant today.

Follow us on Instagram to keep up to date @firebirddiner and for more information, please call +971 4 506 0000.

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