These days, we are used to many conveniences when we go to a restaurant: being able to book a table online, order food with an app and pay by card from the table. It’s sometimes hard to remember this hasn’t always been the case. During the early 1900s, it was relatively common for workers to receive part of their wages in alcohol. (You can decide for yourself if you think current practices are better or worse in this respect.)

Read on to find out about more examples of how things have been—and how far the restaurant industry has come.

From vending machine restaurants to express checkouts

In the early 20th century, there was something called a vending machine restaurant. To order, a guest would press a button for the desired dish, collecting it from a compartment in a cabinet filled with a range of dishes. Behind the scenes, chefs worked to keep the cabinets filled with meals.
Could this be considered an early version of a self-service kiosk? Now, customers can choose from an entire menu’s worth of food on a touchscreen, order and pay for it and then just wait for it to be prepared and delivered. No cabinets required.

When menus were painted works of art

From the mid-1900s, it was not uncommon for restaurant menus to be painted—pure works of art on high quality paper that came to you like a hardcover book. The front often consisted of a painting in strong colors depicting a family or a couple drinking wine. Red was a popular color on menus back in the days—with the theory being that red triggers customers’ appetites.

Menus in restaurants now would be completely confounding to the 1950s restaurant guest: with QR-codes to send guests to a web site or app, where they can see what’s on offer and even order for themselves.

From cash to cards to the mobile terminal

Before the 1950s, the only way to pay for a meal was with cash. (While restaurant workers may have once received part of their wages in alcohol, we doubt that it was accepted as a method of payment.)

The credit card had its genesis in 1949—during a restaurant visit. American Frank McNamara was eating out and, when it was time to paym, found he forgot his wallet. This inspired him to create the world’s first credit card, launched under the name Diner’s Club.

Today, over 90% of all restaurant meals are paid with a card, with many establishments starting to go completely cash-free. And at a sit-down restaurant, the concept of having to get up from the table to pay for your meal is virtually non-existent with mobile card terminals.