Greasy spoon

From Academic Kids

Missing image
The Regency Cafe in Pimlico, London, is a well preserved 1950s "greasy spoon" cafe.

Greasy spoon is a colloquial term used in Britain and America for the archetypal working class or truckers café (in England often pronounced "caff"). The name is used to imply a less than rigorous approach to hygiene and dishwashing, and appears to date from 1925. In America the term is frequently used in New York slang.



A typical greasy spoon meal
A typical greasy spoon meal

The typical greasy spoon serves mainly fried or grilled food, for example: fried eggs, chips, bacon, black pudding, burgers, hash browns, waffles, pancakes, omelettes, sausages and mushrooms. These are often accompanied by baked beans, cooked tomatoes, and toast. Hot and cold sandwiches are also often available; the bacon butty being particularly popular.

A common feature of the greasy spoon is a large menu board, which, on casual inspection, would seem to suggest that the proprietor has devised a separate meal and associated price for every conceivable combination of the basic items listed above. For instance:

  1. Bacon, eggs, chips, beans, and sausage - £4.50
  2. Bacon, eggs, hash browns, beans, and sausage - £4.25
  3. Bacon, eggs, chips, hash browns, and sausage - £4.75
  4. Eggs, chips, beans, sausage, and toast - £4.60
  5. Eggs, chips, ...

And so on.

Despite the origin of the word "café", the main drink in British greasy spoons is usually tea. Often the only coffee available will be instant. Alcoholic drinks are not sold.

Common desserts are pie, particularly apple pie and cherry pie, usually on view in a transparent case. British greasy spoons will often also offer bread and butter pudding, apple crumble and rhubarb crumble.

Stereotypical image

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The Hambone Cafe, in London's Docklands is under threat of closure

The stereotype is of poor quality greasy food — largely meatless sausages; salty, tasteless bacon; and weak, tepid, milky tea (or, in transport cafés, tea thick enough to float a lorry wheelnut, served just below the melting point of the mug). Further stereotyping would suggest that the customary reading material of the clientele is tabloid newspapers, most commonly The Sun or, in the case of roadside greasy spoons, the further downmarket Star or Sport. In practice, cafés vary widely.


The demand for its cuisine has resulted in the establishment of greasy spoons all over the world and particularly in European coastal resorts located within an hour's coach ride from charter airlines' destinations. At such locations, Full English breakfasts may be consumed on an all-day basis (to accommodate late rising clients) and are often accompanied by day-old copies of The Sun.

In the United Kingdom, the traditional greasy spoon has been in decline for many years as a direct consequence of the ubiquitous franchising of extensively marketed fast food chains. However, they remain numerous all over the UK, especially in certain parts of London (especially the "East End") and many seaside towns.

A relatively recent trend in Britain is the growth in popularity of more upmarket cafés on a different model, influenced by the traditional French café, and the Seattle espresso boom. These places serve real coffee (including such variants as espresso and cappucino), a variety of teas (including herbal tea) and different food, such as more elaborate sandwiches and cakes. These establishments are usually referred to as "cafés", pronounced as two syllables in an approximation of the French manner, to distinguish them from the more traditional "caff".

Cultural references

In television and cinema the greasy spoon is often the rendezvous of choice for villains on the brink of pulling a major multi-million pound heist, and are frequent locations for situation comedy.

They are also favoured locations for British television reporters when statistics for heart disease occasioned by high cholesterol levels are released.

For a taste of the archetypal greasy spoon, see the opening scene of Bruce Robinson's 1986 cult film "Withnail and I".

An archetypal greasy spoon is also featured in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, as Harga's House of Ribs. "It was the kind of eating house that didn't need a menu. You just looked at Harga's vest." Mort.

Monty Python's spam sketch is set in a greasy spoon.

Coronation Street and Eastenders, Britain's two most popular soap operas, both feature a greasy spoon as a regular location. In Coronation Street this is "Roy's Rolls" and in Eastenders it is "Kathy's".


Greasy Spoon is the title of a track from jazz musician Hank Marr who died in 2004. The Crusaders also recorded a song by this name on their album "Southern Comfort."

The term was used by the rock band Status Quo as part of the title of their third album, "Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon", which featured on the cover a particularly telling photograph of a worker in just such an establishment.

Hawkwind named their album "Hall of the Mountain Grill" after their favourite greasy spoon, the Mountain Grill in Portobello Road in London.

Greasy spoons are mentioned in countless more songs, for example, by the singer-songwriter Harry Chapin in "The Old Greasy Spoon", by The Streets in "Don't Mug Yourself", or implicitly by the Spin Doctors in "Hungry Hamed's". The comedian Barry Cryer has written an ironic tribute to the greasy spoon to the tune of Elvis Presley's "Trouble".

See also

External links


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