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What is a Luncheonette?

Learn about the history of luncheonettes, what types of food they serve, and how to start one.

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A luncheonette is a small restaurant that primarily serves lunch. Learn about the history of luncheonettes, what types of food they serve, and how to start one.

What is a Luncheonette?

A luncheonette is a small restaurant where service is usually counter-style and primarily serves lunch meals. It is similar to counter-style in a diner where stools are on one side of the counter and the food is served by someone standing on the opposite side. 

A typical luncheonette would only have this counter-style seating and generally serves light meals that are easily prepared.

What is the history of Luncheonettes?

In the early 1900s, many drug store owners started offering light lunch meals and fountain drinks inside their stores, which became known as a ‘luncheonette.’ This added new profits to their sales and it became common to see a luncheonette counter selling hot meals inside drug stores

The reception to luncheonettes varied, with many catering and restaurant owners disliking them and viewing them as unfair competitors. With the decline of restaurants during the 1920s during prohibition, the idea of people buying food inside a drug store felt unfair to restaurant owners who were already struggling without alcohol sales. Many luncheonettes closed between the 1970s and 1980s, although some still continued to serve soda and ice cream.

What is typically on the menu at a Luncheonette?

A typical luncheonette sold simple, ready-to-eat, or easily prepared foods, though large drugstore chains would offer a more extensive menu. 

A variety of sandwiches were usually on the menu at a luncheonette: egg salad, peanut butter and jelly, hot meat sandwiches, and grilled cheese. 

There were also usually two different soup options and popular salads, such as chef salad, fruit salad, and coleslaw. 

In addition to these lunch items, a luncheonette would offer drinks, like coffee, tea, and soda, as well as desserts, such as pie, ice cream, and cakes.

How do you start a luncheonette?

A luncheonette is a small restaurant concept and to start one, you should first identify the type of location you want to set up in. A luncheonette is traditionally inside a drug store or candy shop, but if that is not an option today, you might consider opening one in a small space located in a visible area or near a high-traffic sidewalk. Another good option would be to consider opening your luncheonette in a food hall. Once you’ve decided on your concept, you’ll need to write a business plan. Other steps include market research, securing financing, and designing your menu. You will also need to obtain a health department permit, a food handler’s license, and a food sales permit, among other steps.

How much does it cost to start a Luncheonette?

A luncheonette would likely fall under the small restaurant concept category, but that doesn’t necessarily mean starting one will be inexpensive. The start-up costs could range from as little as $175,000 to well over $700,000. Remember that the average price per square foot is between $100 and $800, with the median at $450. 

Since a luncheonette is typically a small space, you might be able to lower your initial costs depending on the size, location, and whether you are buying or leasing. You can keep the cost of starting your luncheonette down if you follow the traditional business plan of simply selling easy-to-prepare comfort foods and drinks.

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