Dieselpunks

Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Does any one know if any automats exist anywhere? (even a museum)

The research material that I have found for automats is sparse.  There are some movies that feature automats but little can be gleaned from them.  It seems that the last few were in New York but have closed.

I have examined some automat cells at an auction, I should have bought one, but it seems that there must have been several different manufacturers.

With the anachronistic technology of the Steampunk genre, I think an automat would be a very interesting location.  It wouldn't be as archetypical as the hole in the wall café or the airstream diner but a good scene to stage dialog or desperate action.

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We had an automat on my small base in Germany up until it closed in the early 90s.  Basically a whole row of vending machines were bricked into a wall with a door at either end and the backs removed for stocking for our base eaterie.  I have seen small scale version with the addition of vending machines for fishing lures/bait and laundry soaps in some remote Canadian camp grounds.  Since Canada has the "Loonie" and Toonie" coins this works a little better than in the US. 

Is they're something in particular you are researching?

I think they simply evolved into fast food joints (late 1950s) and human-powered assembly line foods like Subway (late 1960s).

What I am researching is why they cam into existence and why they lost favor after becoming popular.

What was the philosophy behind the Automat?  Did they want to eliminate the human element, people serving up the food & cashiers charging it out?  Was it some how more efficient?  There must have been many ready meals not consumed.  What happened to all of that food?  Was there discounts if you bought a large number of tokens?  Did employers subsidize the Automat?

Other technical questions include:  Was there a timing system to tell the buyer how long the food had been in the vendor cell?  Did they have free condiments or were there vendor machines for those?  did people bus their own tables or were there busboys?

Hello Stephen,

This sounds like a business plan.  I suspect that at their heyday at least some automats did try discounted bulk tokens and deals with nearby large employers.  Just good marketing. 

Even if people bused their own tables I think that you would have to have cleaners come in at least once a day or after every meal to keep your business clean enough to attract customers.  Like many grocery stores, old food was possibly offered to nearby shelters and food banks as a tax write off.  Condiments would be tricky.  If you make them free people might steal them but you could drive away customers if you look petty and charge. 

The university where I used to coach had a notorious cafeteria that used a similar system of hot and cold spinning displays but live (more or less) cashiers.  The advantage is that your your cooks can come in and cook just before meal rushes then leave for the meal rush at a traditional eaterie and not be on the clock during dead times.  Even if you have to pay your cooks a little more it could be a bargain.  With places like the SEATAC area raising the fast food worker minimum wage to $15./hr (arguably more that EMS and some soldiers in combat earn) automats could become very viable again.   

Any way back to the university cafeteria, their spinning display was lovingly known as the "wheel of death."  Students would make little flags out of toothpicks with dates to see how long food would keep spinning in there.  They shared stories of an egg roll and tuna fish sandwich making through a semester then still being there covered in mold after break.

If it was not for the concern over theft of a remote unstaffed facility automats could make a LOT of sense here in Alaska especially with the automat equivalent "coffin motels" that work like vending machines.  There are a lot of remote runways and docks with NOTHING around to eat or warm places to sleep. 

 

Stephen Vossler said:

What I am researching is why they cam into existence and why they lost favor after becoming popular.

What was the philosophy behind the Automat?  Did they want to eliminate the human element, people serving up the food & cashiers charging it out?  Was it some how more efficient?  There must have been many ready meals not consumed.  What happened to all of that food?  Was there discounts if you bought a large number of tokens?  Did employers subsidize the Automat?

Other technical questions include:  Was there a timing system to tell the buyer how long the food had been in the vendor cell?  Did they have free condiments or were there vendor machines for those?  did people bus their own tables or were there busboys?

The waste was less than you might think, because much of the food was cold stuff like tuna salad and egg salad sandwiches, cold cuts, and refrigerated fried chicken. The things that were hot were often soups and drinks. If you were really strapped, you could even get a bowl of hot water (meant to be mixed with dry packets) and put catsup from the condiment and utensil station in it to make poor man's tomato soup. Cold items were stocked from a cold room just as beer and sodas are in convenience stores today. Hot items were more restricted in nature, and less available when it wasn't peak turnover time.

People did not expect a restaurant level experience from these places. You could get a large variety of items available instantly, no waiting to order, or have the food prepared. They appealed to people who had limited lunch breaks or time between getting off work and catching a train or bus. Automats did not have upholstered furniture or table cloths as a rule. There was a lot of formica and brushed metal. Although many of them had no public restrooms (as most states did not require businesses serving food to do that then), they were clean sanitary places, unlike some restaurants and delicatessens in an era before stringent health code enforcement.  People mostly cleaned up after themselves, but in case they didn't (rarer in those days than it might be now) the employees made rounds of the customer space to clean the surfaces and empty trash. Most of this I know because my aunt worked in probably the last automat left in Dayton, Ohio before it closed when I was still a school kid. Car culture contributed to the death of the automat, but so did the advent of middle class kitchens in urban residences. There were a lot of places called cold water flats in the early 20th century, which had indoor plumbing, but no water heaters, and no modern kitchen sinks. Cooking dinner in one of those places couldn't have been a very attractive prospect after a ten hour factory shift.

So what I am hearing is that automats were probably the first attempt at fast food dining.  Considering that the small diner or café that was so prevalent in this era still required, getting a place to sit, getting the waitress to take the order, having your meal assembled and served, eaten and bused before the next customer could take the place.  The speed of the automat was basically regulated by the haste of the customer.

Here is an idea for a dieselpunk world that has made the leap to an automobile culture; the "Drive Thru Automat".  Considering the popularity of the Nickel Plate approach, namely a daily special that can be assembled quickly and have significant shelf-life, served at small drive thru kiosks similar to highway toll booths.  Insert coins for the single entre and perhaps a variety of side dishes, drinks, deserts, etc. and your on your way.

You could also have different meals at different lanes.  I can just see the dieselpunk hard boiled detective complaining, "Why is the meatloaf lane always backed up this time of night".

I like it.

Stephen Vossler said:

So what I am hearing is that automats were probably the first attempt at fast food dining.  Considering that the small diner or café that was so prevalent in this era still required, getting a place to sit, getting the waitress to take the order, having your meal assembled and served, eaten and bused before the next customer could take the place.  The speed of the automat was basically regulated by the haste of the customer.

Here is an idea for a dieselpunk world that has made the leap to an automobile culture; the "Drive Thru Automat".  Considering the popularity of the Nickel Plate approach, namely a daily special that can be assembled quickly and have significant shelf-life, served at small drive thru kiosks similar to highway toll booths.  Insert coins for the single entre and perhaps a variety of side dishes, drinks, deserts, etc. and your on your way.

You could also have different meals at different lanes.  I can just see the dieselpunk hard boiled detective complaining, "Why is the meatloaf lane always backed up this time of night".

Although the automat concept has died in 80s or so, I think there has been a resurgence in New York with at least one modern day automat in existence.

The really crazy thing is, as much as we think of 'everything that can be automated has been automated' by some people, we're still doing a lot of stuff that could be automated. Hell, most fast food joints could outright reduce their employees down even further if they just had automated kitchens and vending machines and only needed people to load the machines with the ingredients for cooking. I think ultimately we WANT human interaction of some kind. We're living in an increasing disconnected world. People have been complaining about it for almost a century, and while I never eat at fast food places, I think it would be sad to see them become 100% automated.

An automat bar?  When you can no longer put coins in the machines it is time to go. 

Was that in the US? Germany I'd believe in a heartbeat (some places in Germany... they sell beer in McDonalds), but in the US? Whiskey? Hell yeah! :D

When I was in Japan there were Beer vending machines on the streets.  I guess minors can buy beer in Tokyo.  I still think Asahi Super Dry is a great beer.

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