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The Exchange Buffet, a Restaurant on Wall Street, Operated on the Honor System Where Customers Would Tally Their Own Bills

The Exchange Buffet opened in 1885 and closed in 1946. It was often considered the first cafeteria restaurant. They were popular with servicemen in downtown military offices, college students, and office clerks during the war. Clients were sometimes third or fourth-generation customers. But do you know how effective the system was?

The Exchange Buffet on Wall Street operated on the honor system, with customers tallying their own bills. It was operational for 78 years. It ran from 1885 to 1963 and was quite successful. 

The Exchange Buffet, Quality Food At Reasonable Prices

Most New Yorkers, like Arthur Maloney, were always hurrying around no matter what. As a result, in 1834, several types of lunch rooms began to develop. For example, during the 1880s, well-known cafeterias pioneered the self-service concept. However, because of its unique way of service and payment, this exchange buffet quickly became one of the most popular restaurant styles. Based on historical facts, restaurant historians have dubbed the Exchange Buffet the first waiterless restaurant in the United States.

Exchange Buffet provided a range of cuisines to their clients from a business aspect. For example, they had roughly twenty-five main entrées, not including desserts and sandwiches. Furthermore, the Exchange Buffet caters to a specialized market: people in business. A typical customer would enter the restaurant and order anything from sandwiches to cakes, which they would consume at a stand-up table. 

The Exchange Buffet’s appeal stemmed from its concept of cutting out the middleman to give visitors speedier service. Customers may choose their food and consume it immediately at a counter instead of waiting for a server. Of course, table service was available if a customer desired to be served. (Source: Boston University: School of Hospitality)

The Honor System Concept

Even with these novel and unique elements, the most distinguishing feature of Exchange Buffet was their belief that each consumer was trustworthy, presuming that they checked the prices of the items on display.

This restaurant, however, probably used inspiration from another luncheon joint in New York called Dennett’s. About two years before the Exchange Buffet was founded, Dennett had already operated on an honor system. As the Exchange Buffet would later implement, customers of Dennett’s would eat their food and be charged according to what they reported to the cashier at the end of their meal. Later, a Chicagoan named John Kruger popularized this concept and renamed this honor system-based restaurant-style as a conscience joint, where customers were able to maintain their tabs.

The business was able to prosper because of the honor system philosophy. On the other hand, the owners did not believe it was vital to publicize how Exchange Buffet operated for the first three decades of its existence. Although the technique was unique and unmatched by other food chains, there was fear that promoting it would draw an undesirable class. The restaurant hasn’t lost much money because of chisellers, which is significant in a city where everyone seemed to distrust each other. As a result, the system proved to be effective. (Source: Boston University: School of Hospitality)

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