"Is there anything on this menu that is not swimming in gravy?"
The Greasy Spoon is a small, local or roadside eatery (frequently a "truck stop"), with black-and-white checkered tile floors, red leather covering all its booths, and coffee-stained menus galore. Your archetypal American Greasy Spoon features:
- A nondescript name, such as "Joe's" or "Franky's Diner." May occasionally be called "The Greasy Spoon" for self-aware comedic effect.
- Waitresses with truly terrifying perms (and possibly worse bleach jobs), but who affably refer to everyone, even total strangers, as "hon," "suga," "sweetie," or "dear." She might be a "Flo."
- A constantly bickering kitchen/waitstaff. The chef will always be wearing a tank top, have a pot belly, and sport a decidedly working class one-syllable name like Jim, Frank, or Earl.
- A nigh-endless stream of indecipherable "diner speak" between the waiters and the cooks. Word Salad-esque phrases such as "burn the pig and put it out to pasture!"note and "three brown cows for Table 4!"note float through the air, confusing all laymen but somehow imbuing ungodly speed to the speakers.
- Food served will either be horrible or improbably delicious (just as long as you don't have too many questions about what goes on in the kitchen).
- The menu tends towards unpretentious Americana: pancakes, burgers, fries, hot dogs, milkshakes, fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, biscuits and sausage gravy, etc., all washed down with bottomless, vile, and well-boiled coffee.
- Probably owned and operated by some sort of "ethnic" immigrant/descendant of immigrants. Most often these are Greek, but Jewish, Polish, and Russian ones are not uncommon in the Northeast. This impacts the menu: Greek diners usually have gyros and moussaka, while the Jewish, Polish, and Russian ones can be counted on to have blintzes.
- The "Best Darn X Pie in the Nation." Frequently pumpkin, apple, or cherry; occasionally blueberry. Or pecan if you're in the South, pronounced "p'CAHN."
- Working class and blue-collar patrons, often burly truck drivers, bikers, rednecks and cops. If the diner is in a large city, the patrons will be a mix of various sorts.
- Drunk patrons at night (coming back from the bar) and hung-over ones in the morning/early afternoon on weekends. Both are attracted by the greasy food (the drunk ones to satisfy the drunk munchies, the hung-over ones because fatty food is good for a liquor-damaged stomach); the morning folk also seek the painkilling power of caffeine. Going to a diner while drunk or hung-over is practically a trope in itself.
- Stemming from this, a Diner Brawl might break out at some point.
- If the Greasy Spoon is meant to evoke a "50's diner" feel, it may have jukeboxes at the tables.
Oh, and by the way: the American diner is very important to the culture of the Northeast, and is practically a religion in New Jersey
. Argue with a Northeasterner—and especially a New Jerseyan, and really
especially a North Jerseyan—about what a diner is at your own peril.
There exists a British version of the greasy spoon, catering to roughly the same demographic and serving a broadly similar role, though with different typical cuisine and decor. They are typically called a "cafe," without the accent and pronounced "caff." As far as the place goes, replace the vile, well-boiled coffee with the proverbial khaki builder's tea strong and sweet enough to stand a spoon in, the "unpretentious Americana" with similarly unpretentious British fare (which may be local and period-appropriate; e.g., if you're in the East End
any time before 1970, expect eel pies), and the "ethnic" owner with an at least moderately xenophobic British one
, and you have a fair picture of the institution.
It is also common to have a ordinary greasy spoon in a quite fantastic setting, in a case of Recycled IN SPACE
. Occasionally, it features as the Inn Between the Worlds
Similar to the Malt Shop
, but lacks any kind of Nostalgia Filter
- Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" features an outside view of a corner diner in a big city and several late-night patrons. It is quite often referenced in other media.
- In Transmetropolitan, Spider Jerusalem and his assistants hang out in one as a tribute panel to Hopper.
- In Mesmo Delivery most of the story takes place in and around a seedy truck stop dive.
- Elephantmen had an issue in which Hip Flask and Vanity stop to eat in Tammy and Sally's Diner, it's actually a lot nicer than usual for this trope except for Flask having to put up with some Fantastic Racism in the form of Elephantmen only seating and one abusive customer.
- Since Wonton Soup describes itself as a Space Trucker Cooking Opera it's fitting that it should have a space station that serves as one of these, though according to the main character you can get pretty good wonton soup there.
- Sam & Max: Freelance Police: Sam & Max visit one in the On the Road story arc.
- Ghost World's Enid and Rebecca hang out at the Quality Cafe.
- Peewees Big Adventure had one of these near the famous Cabazon Dinosaurs.
- Waitress, of course.
- Bruce Almighty has one which is where Bruce is when he realizes he really does have Godly powers.
- One of these appeared in Superman II.
- Jenny Hayden and Starman stop at one of these, and the Gargle Blaster for Starman is the Dutch Apple Pie.
- Used in a genuinely creepy way in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
- The movie Diner starring Mickey Rourke.
- Pumpkin & Honey Bunny rob one in Pulp Fiction.
- The real Erin Brockovich played a waitress at one of these in the movie.
- Pineapple Express ends with the heroes shooting the breeze at a diner.
- In Scotland PA, Duncan's Cafe is this until the McBeths remodel it into a fast food hamburger joint.
- The lab that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America was hidden beneath such an establishment in the 1990 version of Captain America.
- The Portokalos' restaurant in My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a fairly typical urban Greek diner.
- In the Smokey and the Bandit movies, a Greasy Spoon is referred to as a "Choke-and-puke."
- The Bulldog Cafe in The Rocketeer.
- In Dumb and Dumber, the guys make an ill-fated stop at a greasy spoon. Lloyd calls the waitress Flo, which they both think is the height of hilarity.
- In the Canadian Twist, there are a few of these places. Nancy works at one of them.
- The Don't Drop Inn from Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird. The food is bad (garlic soup with maraschino cherries, anyone?) and the service is worse (the staff are a mix of Grouches and cantankerous humans). Oh, and don't order the tossed salad unless you want a Food Fight to break out.
- Enough - Husband refers to wife's place of employment as "the greasy spoon" ... and it's a fairly accurate description.
- Natural Born Killers - Three drunk rednecks stop by a non-descript, 50's style truck stop (called the "5 to 2 Cafe") with interior design featuring black-and-white, checkered tile flooring, and red leather booths. Well-boiled coffee is a part of the ambiance. Mickey and Mallory are there. Mickey is ordering up some pie (trying to decide from apple, pecan, cherry, or keylime) from a waitress named Mabel. Mallory is dancing at the jukebox. It ends in a diner brawl, involving everyone mentioned, as well as a fat chef in a tank top.
- Howard the Duck features one of these with the usual staples. It being the 80s, scary perms are included.
- The sleazy galley in Life of Pi, where a grumpy cook (played by Gérard Depardieu) serves his gravy-rich meals to the ship's lower deck passengers.
- "The Crows Nest" in the Wicked Lovely series, which also holds high nostalgia factor for Seth. Largely due to Parental Abandonment issues - before his parents left, they spent a lot of time there.
- American Gods had Mister Wednesday and Shadow meet in such a location. Bikers and smoke abound.
- The Pico Mundo Grille in the Odd Thomas series apparently has all of the good things about this. It's apparently a very popular restaurant.
- In Harvesting the Heart, Paige works at one of these after she runs away from home.
- In Just One Day, Allyson works at one to save up for her trip to Paris. It falls under the category of "improbably good food."
- In Robert A. Heinlein's Between Planets Don Harvey ends up working at the Two Worlds Dining Room which is a Chinese version of a dinner since the owner/short order cook is Chinese.
- Cup A' Joe Diner on the Season 3 episode of the same name on The A-Team. The in-universe competition, Cactus Jack's chain of diners, are an egregious example of a Greasy Spoon with bad food and terrible coffee.
- Mama Joy's in Everwood; Dr Abbott even openly refers to it as a greasy spoon once. Both the trope and the name are swiftly deconstructed in the very first episode wherein the diner appears:
Nina: [shouts order at the top of her lungs]
Andy: Wow, where's the cook? In Maine?
Nina: He only hears in his left ear.
Andy: What's wrong with his right ear?
Nina: He doesn't have a right ear.
Andy: Now what does Mama Joy think of this?
Nina: Nothing, mostly. Mama Joy's been dead for twenty years. The place is run by her nephew.
Andy: Ah, so Mama Joy is actually Aunt Joy.
Nina: And Aunt Joy is actually Gertrude Heim. But that doesn't have quite the same ring.
- The Farscape episode "I-Yensch, You-Yensch" has some of the main characters meet at an alien version of this trope, a la Spaceballs. It has some of the typical greasy spoon tropes associated with hard-boiled fiction, like some unexpected robbers, a put-upon workstaff, and schemes to burn the place down for insurance money...but IN SPACE!
- Mel's Diner in the Sitcom Alice.
- In Heroes, Hiro met Charlie, his doomed love interest, in one of these in Midland, Texas, called the Burnt Toast Diner. There was a later sad example of in-humor: the diner Hiro and Nathan met at was called Fly By Night.
- In volume 4, Luke repeatedly asks Sylar to stop at one during their road trip, to Sylar's considerable annoyance.
- Roseanne worked at one for a while, and then owned one.
- On Just Shoot Me!, Maya and Elliot go to a diner that boasts the "world's best blueberry pie." Elliot tries it, and doesn't like it.
- In LOST's flashbacks, Kate's mother is a waitress in such an establishment. In one of the show's "crosses," Sawyer is shown to have eaten there, waited on by Kate's mother.
- Frasier spends a Christmas Eve in one.
- There's one in The 4400 wherein the pies cause Mind Link between people who have eaten them.
- The reaper meetings on Dead Like Me were held at a Captain Ersatz of Waffle House.
- Which was reused in Stargate SG-1 as a manifestation of a higher plane of existence. The meals were themed around enlightenment and ascension-related names.
- Dean in Supernatural is very fond of this kind of establishment. Especially if they serve pie.
- The cast of Becker regularly met in one.
- Tyler takes Dub-Dub to the The Batter of the Bulge Pancake House on The Middleman and assures her it's not because of the food.
- Barth's from You Cant Do That On Television.
- Twin Peaks had the Double R Diner. In contrast to the typical trope, the coffee and pie are absolutely amazing, at least according to the ever-chipper Agent Cooper.
- Kelly gets a job at one on Married... with Children.
- The main characters in 2 Broke Girls work in one.
- The cast of Bones are frequently seen in one, with the running gag that Brennan refuses to try the pie (and Booth is never served his).
- Boardwalk Empire Season 3 prominently features a gas station diner at Tabor Heights, New Jersey that becomes critical to the region's bootlegging operations. Gyp Rossetti takes over the town and eats at the diner every night. The diner serves spaghetti, which the waitress seems to think is an exotic dish.
- Mad Men gives us a few:
- There's one very close to the offices of Sterling-Cooper—maybe in the same building or right next door. The characters go there when what they need is quick service rather than quality. Don meets his brother Adam Whitman there.
- During his period of problem drinking during Season 4, Don occasionally goes to a diner to eat, particularly while drunk/hungover. He ends up sleeping with the waitress, having no recollection of it, and telling her his name was Dick. And to make it worse, he forgets to pick up his kids for the weekend.
- The SCDP offices also have a nearby diner, where again the characters go when they need to have a quick chat and a bite. Also, Peggy has her talk with Freddy Rumsen that convinces her to jump ship at this restaurant, and when she decides to present Ted Chaough with her offer, it's at this diner.
- JAG: Appears several times throughout the series, often on or close to military installations. Season one cliffhanger "Skeleton Crew" has a typical one.
- Wings: The airport terminal has a lunch counter that looks something like this.
- Parodied in a sketch on Saturday Night Live, in which Jennifer Lawrence spews vitriolic comments at a pair of diners.
- Tom Waits' song "Invitation to the Blues" from Small Change is set in a greasy spoon, and deals with the narrator's infatuation with a waitress there.
- Suzanne Vega whiles the time away, drinking coffee and people-watching, in Tom's Diner.
- Stinky's Diner in the Sam & Max: Freelance Police games from Telltale Games. The Lucasarts game Sam & Max Hit the Road had the Snuckey's chain.
- Stinky's is an interesting case-it was founded by "Grandpa" Stinky (as opposed to "Girl" Stinky) with the explicit purpose of crafting food so vile that only the strongest would survive eating it, thus bettering the species. Probably explains real ones.
- Stinky and Sal communicate in dinerspeak, and there are entire optional dialogue trees to hear more of it.
- The Tex Murphy games have the Brew & Stew. One of the characters you can talk to in The Pandora Directive even refers to it as a Greasy Spoon if you ask her about Louie (the owner).
- The diner in whose Disgusting Public Toilet the first on-screen murder takes place in Indigo Prophecy.
- Sam and Fuzzy had one of these. Its special was called "The Eliminator," and anyone who could successfully finish it got the meal for free.
- In Start of Darkness, a prequel book for The Order of the Stick, Xykon, Redcloak, and Right-Eye discuss their plans at an Evil Diner, where they meet the Demon Roaches and Xykon muses philosophically over a terrible cup of coffee. After Xykon becomes a lich and finds that he can't taste the coffee, he murders the waitress out of rage.
- Rugrats: In the episode "The Graham Canyon," the Pickles family stops in one of these when their car breaks down. Stu has trouble deciphering the Southwest-inspired menu. "Mole sauce?"note
- There was one of these of the "Truck Stop" variety in an episode of Dexter's Laboratory.
- Ben 10 has one with "the best ice cream this side of the Rockies" and a Apron Matron toothless waitress who is pretty awesome.
- Ben 10: Alien Force begins with Max in one in the "Max Out" episode.
- One episode of Danny Phantom had the main trio resting/hiding out in one of these when under pursuit by The Guys in White after Danny's Secret Identity was exposed to the public.
- Refers to the Krusty Krab in an early SpongeBob SquarePants episode, "Welcome to the Chum Bucket," in a charming musical number.
- In Invader Zim, Dib talks to a hobo at a diner. The hobo then kidnaps one of the customers.
- One of these was a central location in Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders.
- The Local Hangout on The Tick the cartoon, based on a scene in the comic, in turn based on the Edward Hopper painting mentioned above. Specifically referred to as a Greasy Spoon.
- A funny example occurs in The Simpsons episode "Selma's Choice": while on the way to Great Aunt Gladys's funeral, the family, with Patty and Selma, stop at a Greasy Spoon diner with a buzzing sign called "The Buzzing Sign Diner."
- Similar establishments figure in several episodes of Arthur, as when the school bus breaks down on the way to Bartleby Hall and on David and Jane Reads' 10th anniversary, when they are forced to stop at the Ten Spot diner.
- The Venture Bros. stop at one while running away from home. Dr. Orpheus, who is tailing them, gets harassed by a couple of burly patrons (at their own peril).
- Phineas and Ferb build one on the roof of the family's RV, as it is driving along the interstate.
- One such eatery exists in Gravity Falls, and it's even called "Greasy's Diner." Lazy Susan, one of the waitresses, has a thing for Stan.
- Mickey's Dining Car in downtown St. Paul, breakfast served 24 hours a day since before World War II, sometimes shows up as a setting for films (The Mighty Ducks, Jingle All the Way, A Prairie Home Companion).
- Go to roadfood.com and look up all the restaurants under the "Diner" category. You'll find quite a few that fit the bill (and quite a few others that used to fit before getting listed on Roadfood made them popular and they became more upscale).
- A few national chains—notably Waffle House, IHOP, and Denny's—are styled after diners. However, many diner aficionados, particularly from the Northeast, vehemently deny that any of these can be properly called diners.
- Johnie's Coffee Shop in Los Angeles is a famed example of Googie architecture and a recently-designated Los Angeles landmark, famed for hosting scenes in The Big Lebowski, Reservoir Dogs, and Miracle Mile, among others. However, Johnie's actually hasn't been open for business in years. Its main business — if it has any at all — is as a film setting. That's Los Angeles for you.
- One appears in The Sky Crawlers, with the surprisingly good food variety. Oddly, it mostly resembles an American diner, but is set up somewhere in Northern Ireland.
- LV's mother in Little Voice frequents one of these for breakfast with her friend.
- Withnail & I: Marwood finds himself in a particularly gritty and British one near the start of the film. In the script it is referred to as "Wanker's Cafe."
- I Really Hate My Job: A small, second rate, rat-infested cafe full of waitresses waiting for their big break is the setting of the film.
- The street cafe type shows up in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Tottenham Court Road, where the trio go to try to escape the Death Eaters, but two show up because they are able to track anyone who speaks Voldemort's name.
- Good Omens has the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse meet up in one of these, drawing the attention of the local chapter of the Hell's Angels.
- Chapter 8 of The Pale King ends with the unnamed girl eating breakfast at a diner in Plepler, MO, as her mother has sex in the truck outside.
- The '70s sitcom Sykes has the roadside cafe version, where Eric and Hat buy one and try and convert it into something a little posher. It doesn't work as all they do is alienate the truckies. Then they convert it back and rake in the cash but can't keep up the gritty act as part of working there. Then their snobby neighbor Mr. Brown buys it.
- The little cafe to which the losing team is sent by Suralan each week in The Apprentice UK.
- The Green Midget Cafe, Bromley from Monty Python's Flying Circus. Spam, spam, spam, baked beans and spam, but baked beans is off.
- One of Cynthia's patients in Series 2 of Call the Midwife is an old, angry diabetic man who runs an eel pie shop in Poplar. This is an even older form of greasy spoon than the cafe.
- The Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama Horror of Glam Rock by Paul Magrs is set in a motorway service station.
- Joe's diner from Improbable Island. The "Chips" (french fries) are described as tasting like "paper bags filled with pus." The "Family Trough" meal is served in a pail, and you feel less hungry just from looking at it.
Examples of Greasy Spoon analogues in fantastic settings
- Attack of the Clones features Dex's Diner, where Obi-wan goes to speak to the owner/chef, Dexter Jettster. Apparently Dex has a bit of a past, and not only sells food, but information.
- Spaceballs has a space truck stop styled like a greasy spoon. The scene features a memorable Alien parody.
- Space Truckers had a greasy spoon in space that that was in a spinning donut shape to keep gravity going, a la 2001 (along with the white colourscheme). This is in keeping with the movie's trend of mixing truckers and trucker culture with sci-fi.
- "Harga's House of Ribs" in Ankh Morpork goes either here or under British examples; we're not completely sure which.
- Ankh-Morpork is full of those. Harga's House of Ribs is only one of the more well-known ones. (Holy Wood had its fair share of them, too, because actors needed to eat and were not paid well enough to complain.)
- Harga's place is actually relatively sophisticated one, offering a full menu and coffee to boot. Night Watch features a more Medieval example, which only provides a boiling pot of nondescript stew for a few pennies.
- Steph Turner's restaurant where the Spook Duo set shop in the David Weber and Eric Flint's Torch of Freedom. Lamphshaded when Anton calls it a "greasy spoon," which prompted Steph's angry outburst that sanitary violations are about the only things that authorities are serious about. Given that the diner in question is definitely on the Wrong Side of the Tracks, that's something.
- A couple of these appear in The Rising Thunder as well, mainly becasue that's a common place for the Firebrand's marks to make contacts with him. Given that the Madras Sector is in an ass end of the League, where graft and corruption reign supreme, a lot of them are surprisingly better then they could've been.
- The Battlestar Galactica Spinoff series Caprica had one of these where Joseph Adama and Daniel Graystone met. While it was an inner-city diner instead of countryside, it still had some of the characteristics of a Greasy Spoon. Apparently it served Caprican and Gemenese food; it's probably supposed to be analogous to the ubiquitous Greek-run diners in the US that serve both hamburgers and gyros.
- The Infinity Diner in The BBC musical Edutainment series Music Makers: Infinity Diner is a greasy spoon far away from major space-travel lanes in the year 2999.
- In Pokémon Colosseum the Outskirt Stand, a diner and gasoline station made from an old locomotive, is one of the visitable locations in Orre. It is the first place that Wes visits after destroying the Team Snagem Hideout at the start of the game, and one of the most valuable locations, as it is the only place in Orre where he can buy Poké Balls. (In the sequel, the place still sells them, but there are other places in Orre where you can find them.)
- The Emperor's New Groove featured "Mudka's Meat Hut, Home Of The Mound Of Meat." Looking over the menu prompted Yzma to say the quote at the top. Kronk ends up in the kitchen and somehow manages to comprehend the waitress' dinerspeak almost instantly.
- Actually, the waitress speaks in a very clear-cut manner. Kronk is the one that dishes the diner-speak.
- Dot's Diner in ReBoot fits this in appearance only. It's not a truck stop, nor is it badly run or dirty. But is definitely styled after a 50's diner. Al's Wait-and-Eat, on the other hand, is a lot closer to this trope. And it goes very slow.
- Cars has Flo's Diner.
- The Backyardigans, of all things, had the Big Dipper Dinner in the homonymous episode. Although the name may not give it away, it's located in outer space.