Automats are 1. Fun, 2. Out-of-the-Ordinary, and 3. Nostalgic. Wouldn’t that fit right into what you’d expect in Disney World? But let’s begin at the beginning…
What’s an Automat?
What’s an automat, you ask? Nope — it’s not a laundromat. It’s a construct of the first half of the 20th century — a restaurant + vending machine combination. Automats offered individual servings of freshly made food that were placed behind little windows. If you wanted one of the items, you dropped your nickels in the slot, opened the little window, and took out the plate. The ultimate in “fast food” before fast food joints existed!
Automats started to slowly disappear in the 60s and 70s as fast food chains became more prevalent and customers moved to the suburbs. Fast food was cheaper to make and serve than the oxymoronic, heavily-staffed automats (you had plenty of change-makers, busboys, and highly trained chefs in automats) could keep up with. Horn and Hardart closed their final automat in 1991. And although Bamn!, an even more automatic automat, opened in New York City in 2006 to cheers from the late-night bar crowd, it closed in 2009, likely a victim of the same demise its predecessors encountered — cheaper, better, and fresher competition nearby. A couple of automat-like survivors keep their doors open in Japan and the Netherlands, however, so there could be hope.
Overall, though, it seems that automats in America have gone the way of nostalgia. Which brings me to my point… Aren’t Disney theme parks themselves all about nostalgia and “idyllic memories” from your childhood?
If It Won’t Work in Real Life, It Can Still Work in Disney World
Clearly people will eat at restaurants simply for the novelty of the atmosphere. We have an idealized representation of a Drive-In Movie Theater, an idealized representation of a 50’s diner, and an idealized representation of the famous Hollywood Brown Derby…why not an automat?
Disney theme parks are all about giving people an experience that they can’t re-create in “real life;” and if there’s a historical context, even better! Even if the construct isn’t profitable outside of the big purple gates anymore, Disney theme parks thrive on nostalgia and interesting dining experiences! Surely it could work! It’s fun! It’s novel! It’s an interesting alternative to counter-service! You would go, right?
Plus — kids would love looking in all the little windows, making their decisions, and putting their coins in the little slots so they can snag the chosen menu items from their tiny see-through boxes. Neil Simon thought so…
“To have your own stack of nickels placed in your tiny hands; to be able to choose your own food, richly on display like museum pieces; to make quick and final decisions at the age of eight; this was a lesson in financial dealings that not even two years at the Wharton School could buy today.” —Neil Simon
But What If It Didn’t Work in the Parks?
If the nostalgia/atmosphere pitch won’t work, let’s try this argument:
It’s late. You’re tired. Your kids are tired. Your food court or counter-service location in your resort is closed. You have no food in the hotel room. You don’t want Cheeto-s or Doriots or Snickers or packaged crackers. You’re out of luck.
Unless there’s an automat!
Automats don’t have to be staffed the way they were in the early 1900s with chefs and busboys. Automats can (and are in some places) glorified vending machines offering cold sandwiches, fresh fruit and vegetables, microwaveable items (good for those in DVC Villas), yogurt, Lunchables, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, salads, hummus and pita, Zebra Domes, Tie-Dye Cheesecake, Mickey Rice Krispie Treats, fresh fruit and cheese platters, muffins, and numerous other “real food” alternatives to chips and candy bars. Of course if you have a hankering for a baked item like a cupcake or a slice of grapefruit cake, it could stock those as well!
Just put the same grab-and-go section you’d find in any Disney food court behind a plate of glass and a coin slot and there you go! Imagine all the extra money they could bring in during the midnight-6am hours! These could be located just outside of the theme parks, inside the resorts, or even in Downtown Disney and wouldn’t take any more effort than is put into stocking a grab-and-go wall.
I Rest My Case
Fast, fresh food, available anytime day or night, and potentially healthier than what you’d get from a standard vending machine. Brilliant, right? I think it’s a no-brainer.
Of course, I also think adding a real-life, staffed automat to one of the theme parks would be a particularly fun experiment. Talk about adding a real piece of recent history to the parks. Possibly a nightmare during crowded times, but what Disney World restaurant isn’t?
So, clearly, Disney World needs an automat of some sort. Whether it’s cold items only for those of us who arrive late to the hotel and just need some sort of sustenance, or whether it’s a full-fledged automat in one of the theme parks, I think it’s a winner of an idea… .
Photo Source — Bamn Automat