A counter in a greasy spoon in Brooklyn
A typical British budget cafe in Tufnell Park, London

A greasy spoon is a term used to refer to a small, cheap restaurant typically specializing in fried foods.[1][2] The term greasy spoon has been used in the United States since at least the 1920s[3] to describe diners and coffee shops, and is presently used throughout the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland to refer to British and Irish cafes. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term greasy spoon originated in the United States[4] and is now used in various English-speaking countries.

The earliest appearance of the term in print was in Macmillan's Magazine in 1906, referring to events of an earlier time: a restaurant in Paris was visited daily by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1874. "...the Cremerie in the Rue Delambre, - an eating-house much frequented by artists, and familiarly known as The Greasy Spoon..."

Nicknaming cheap fried food restaurants after an unwashed spoon dates back at least to 1848: "The Gabbione [in Rome]... has withal an appearance so murky and so very far removed from cleanliness, that the Germans have bestowed upon it the apellation of the 'Dirty Spoon'."[5]


Many typical American and Canadian greasy spoon diners focus on fried or grilled food, such as Salisbury steak, fish and chips, deep fried chicken, sausages, bacon, waffles, pancakes, Spam, fried or scrambled eggs, and omelettes. Sandwiches are also popular, including hamburgers, hot dogs, steak sandwiches, and deli meats. These are often accompanied by sides of baked beans, hash browns, toast, french fries, onion rings, or coleslaw. Soups and chili con carne are generally available. Regional fare is often served. Since the 1970s, many Greek immigrants have entered the business. Coffee, iced tea, and soft drinks are the typical beverages, as alcohol is usually not offered due to the prohibitive cost of a liquor license. Pie, savouries and ice cream are popular snacks and desserts.[6]

A typical American greasy spoon or diner may offer a full meal for a special price, sometimes called a blue-plate special. A British or Irish cafe will typically offer a "full cooked breakfast" all day.

A greasy spoon diner is often located alongside a main road to serve passing motorists, particularly a truck stop catering particularly to truck (lorry) drivers; this is known as a transport cafe in Britain.

Popular culture

Although there are now far fewer establishments due to the dominance of corporate fast food restaurant chains, the greasy spoon diner is still nostalgic thanks to "counter service, jukeboxes and hearty comfort cuisine". The greasy spoon is a common setting in movies and TV shows.[7]

Restaurateur and television personality Guy Fieri, on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, pays visits to such diners across the United States.[8]

Comic strips and humorous magazines have often lampooned the greasy spoon diner. The Better Half had Bert's Beanery, and Dagwood Bumstead continues to eat at Lou's Diner in Blondie. The kitchen and mess hall in Beetle Bailey provide the military equivalent of a greasy spoon. In their art, staff members tend to be unkempt in some way -- hirsute, unshaven, tattooed, wearing a stain-covered apron, or smoking a cigarette while cooking or interacting with a customer. A gag cartoonist may emphasize filth by drawing vermin such as cockroaches, flies or rats; an example from MAD Magazine #55 (June 1960) is "In a Greasy Spoon Diner" by Don Martin.

See also


  1. ^ "greasy spoon". Dictionary.com Unabridged (Online). n.d. Retrieved 2019-08-27.
  2. ^ Duncan Smith (13 February 2015). "Cafe culture: The survival of the traditional British 'caff'". BBC News. Retrieved 2019-08-27.
  3. ^ "greasy spoon". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2019-08-27.
  4. ^ "greasy spoon" entry, OED
  5. ^ Samuel Bevan (1849). Sand and Canvas: A Narrative of Adventures in Egypt, with a Sojourn Among the Artists in Rome. C. Gilpin. pp. 370.
  6. ^ Amy Carlberg (2017-04-03). "The Best Greasy Spoons in Toronto". Freshdaily Inc. Retrieved 2019-08-27.
  7. ^ Dan Clapson (2016-07-28). "12 Great Greasy Spoons to Try Across Canada". Food Network. Retrieved 2019-08-27.
  8. ^ "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: About the Show". Food Network. Retrieved 2019-08-27.