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Why have cafeterias died off?

Under the turkey there is cornbread dressing.

I was at a K&W Cafeteria today for the first time since pre-pandemic days. I found myself wondering why cafeterias are so endangered, given that they are so practical. When I got home I did a little Googling. Wikipedia has a nice article on the history of cafeterias. The answer to my question should have been obvious. It was mainly fast food chains that killed off cafeterias.

K&W Cafeterias filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 22, 2020. The company’s financial situation was already stressed, but the pandemic tipped them over the edge. Some K&W cafeterias have closed, but some remain open under a reorganization plan while the company tries to pay its debts.

According to the Wikipedia article:

“At one time, upscale cafeteria-style restaurants dominated the culture of the Southern United States, and to a lesser extent the Midwest. There were numerous prominent chains of them: Bickford’s, Morrison’s Cafeteria, Piccadilly Cafeteria, S&W Cafeteria, Apple House, Luby’s, K&W, Britling, Wyatt’s Cafeteria and Blue Boar among them. Currently, two Midwestern chains still exist, Sloppy Jo’s Lunchroom and Manny’s, which are both located in Illinois. There were also a number of smaller chains, usually located in and around a single city. These institutions, with the exception of K&W, went into a decline in the 1960s with the rise of fast food and were largely finished off in the 1980s by the rise of ‘casual dining’.”

K&W held out much longer than most cafeterias. The decline of cafeterias is a huge cultural loss. K&W helped keep traditional Southern cooking alive into an era in which people cook less and less at home. I suspect that the displacement of cafeterias by fast food also had a considerable effect on public health and the rise in obesity.

I felt guilty for stopping at K&W. It’s very rare for me to eat out anymore. But now I don’t feel so guilty. The surviving cafeterias need every dollar they can get.

One Comment

  1. Jo wrote:

    Oh, what a loss. My daughter and I traveled to the beach this week and planned to eat at the K&W cafeteria near Murrells Inlet, SC. Sadly, it was closed. So sad. We don’t have a cafeteria in the city that I live near, population approximately 50,000. Sure hope the remaining K&W’s in larger cities can remain open. It is not easy to find food as good as could count on at those cafeterias.

    Thursday, December 9, 2021 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

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