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Self service restaurants first appear in San Francisco during the California gold rush of 1849. At first a selection of free food was placed along the bar in saloons.  There were so many people, that soon other establishments opened which charged for serving yourself.  You went down the line with a tray and chose what you wanted, and paid at the end of the line.

Many food historians consider the first cafeteria to have been in the YWCA of Kansas City, Mo. in 1891.  It provided cheap, self-service meals to working women.

In the early 1890’s a place calling itself a “cafetiria” opened in Chicago.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that cafeterias became common, as large businesses (such as factories) in major cities began to provide their employees with food in “cafeterias”.




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