Saying goodbye to the American diner

Bar stools, comfort food and a waitress with a pencil in her hair are what you might imagine when thinking of the classic American diner.

The menus are lengthy and include everything you crave at home but could order day or night from those roadside restaurants that are quickly disappearing across the country.

Yes, the American diner is considered endangered. So classic and so red, white and blue is this form of eatery that the Culinary Arts Museum in Providence, Rhode Island employs a Diner Scholar and has showcased an exhibit titled Diners: Still Cookin’ in the 21st Century.

Despite the exhibit’s name, recent reports by national publications suggest that diners, those places we love because they serve the home cooked style of food we want outside the home, are experiencing dark times.

It’s the latest change in a country that is still transitioning from the 20th century, where many of the traditions we enjoyed in the 1900s are losing favor in the young new century.

From vinyl records to drive-in theaters, for me, the loss of the American diner is particularly cutting because we are losing yet another preservation of the American spirit. Diners are in some ways the beating heart of our culture. People from all backgrounds sit at them. Those people talk to each other; they break bread, and somehow, the country becomes more connected.

Born as restaurants on-the-go, vintage diners, still exist in their stainless steel glory. Shiny and full of the most American fare, diner customers expect familiar comfort in burgers, fries, milkshakes and pancakes.

In New York City, more than 1,000 diners existed just a generation ago. Today there are less than 400. Diners are no longer made out of rail cars, but they are moving fast into non-existence.

So important is the diner impact on American culture, that the eateries have influenced artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers for decades. Your favorite scenes in movies such as Back To The Future and When Harry Met Sally take place with characters in booths, salt and pepper shakers in the distance.

Diners are places where people fall in love and business deals are made. They are where families meet after church, and truck drivers stop for a well-needed break.

In the 1960s, diners became the backdrop to brave civil rights warriors in the South. Sit-ins were staged by African-Americans, young and old, who were making quiet but powerful statements about who they were and what they rightly deserved.

The next generation will have chain restaurants and perhaps food by drone delivery. Unfortunately, they’ll lose out on this uniquely American creation. An establishment that undoubtedly provided much more impact on a generation of people than most of us imagine.

Originally published at on January 4, 2017.



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Abraham Villarreal

Abraham Villarreal

People are interesting things. I write about them and what makes them interesting.