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What is a Diner?

Diners are inexpensive restaurants, sometimes open 24/7, that serve homestyle breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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Diner glossary

What is a diner?

Diners are inexpensive restaurants, sometimes open 24/7, that serve homestyle breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Many diners have a charming throwback 1950s feel, as though they’re lost in time. They’re the kind of place where friendly waitstaff pours bottomless coffee and flip sizzling burgers on a large griddle. 

In essence, diners are the quintessential American restaurant that appears on every corner and in countless movies. 

Diner menus tend to be comprehensive, sometimes involving several pages, and feature grilled and griddled comfort food. Two highlights of many diners are the all-day breakfasts and the variety of homemade pies. 

Booth seating with retro jukeboxes is prime real estate for customers, though not all diners offer that. Most have comfortable chairs, some booths, and counter seating for walk-ins.

What is the history of diners?

There’s a reason why many diners resemble railroad cars. The first diners were once real train cars that had been converted into restaurants. 

Irish-American inventor Patrick J. Tierney coined the term “diner” at the turn of the twentieth century. He owned a business that built lunch wagons and prefabricated dining cars and shipped them to buyers across the country. New Jersey was the manufacturing center of diner cars, so it’s no surprise it has more diners than any other state in the country. 

What is typically on a diner menu?

American homestyle food is the name of the game. Think heaping mounds of eggs, bacon, and potatoes for breakfast. Greasy spoon classics like grilled sandwiches, burgers, fries, meatloaf, and biscuits and gravy dominate lunch and dinner. 

The menus are famously long and laminated, and it’s common to see a dozen different types of pancakes, omelets, burgers, or milkshakes gracing the pages.

Diners in the American West often incorporate Mexican comfort food into their menus, including taco plates smothered with cheese or breakfast chilaquiles. 

A variety of ice cream shakes and all-American pies round out the menu. Occasionally, beer or wine might show up, but most likely, you’ll wash it all down with a soda-fountain drink.

How do you start a diner?

The look, the feel, and the menu of a diner have a playbook. People instantly recognize this type of restaurant, as many have become legendary fixtures in all corners of the country. Because the general concept and menu are already set in the minds of customers, the appearance and design of your diner will be critical. 

For instance, do you want to scream “classic diner” with checkered floors and a jukebox, or do you want to convey a subtle feeling of nostalgia? 

Another critical step is identifying your ideal customer and creating a plan to inspire loyalty. Diners are generally profitable by establishing a good foundation of regulars and locals who then bring their friends.

How much does it cost to open a diner?

The average price to open a restaurant ranges from $100 to $800 a square foot, according to FreshBooks, including all expenses such as staffing, utilities, appliances, and remodeling. A diner will likely fall below the median of $450 per square foot. 

Costs for consumables, such as food and beverage, might be lower thanks to the nature of the diner menu. Customers generally do not expect organic, seasonal, cutting-edge cooking, so diner owners can take advantage of wholesale prices on produce and other commonly found ingredients.

Wrapping up

Who doesn’t love being served affordable, delicious food any time of the day or night? Diners hold a special place in the hearts and minds of Americans, who appreciate the nostalgia as much as the low prices.

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