We just added The Automat to our library of Wine Adventure Films – stories from Adventures In The World Of Wine And Adjacent Amusements™. Automats dominated the fast-food and convenience restaurant category in the days before Kings, Queens, Princes, Castles, and Golden Arches made burgers quick, easy, and cheap.
Before the Automat, Horn & Hardart Company operated cafeteria style restaurants starting in 1888. They were best known for their coffee, which can be purchased online today.
In 1902, the Horn & Hardart Company followed the lead of Automat restaurants already operating in Berlin, Germany and opened the first Horn & Hardart Automat in Philadelphia. Vending equipment was purchased from engineer Max Sielaff, who had patented the design and was manufacturing the equipment in Berlin. Instead of waiters taking orders, food was available in single servings from coin operated cubicles. Cooks and runners operating behind the wall of cubicles prepared the food and re-stocked the cubicles after each purchase. The menu was broad, including sandwiches, entres, sides, and desserts. And of course there was plenty of famous Horn & Hardart Company coffee, always brewed within 20 minutes of serving. Locations in the U.S. eventually expanded to over 40 and developed a cult following. But the business model became less profitable as prices increased and the last Horn & Hardart Automat closed in 1991.
The Automat inspired others to build on its food delivery model. Several attempts have been made to revive the Automat or adopt its server-less processes, but none have gained the following of the original Horn & Hardart version.
Read more about the movie below. Cheers!
The Automat (2021) is a documentary film that explores the original restaurants, unique features, and modern adaptations. Many celebrities appear in the film to share their unique Automat memories. To view the movie trailer on IMDB, click here.