The Philosophy of The Diner

When I walked into the restaurant, the sun was just beginning to break through the blinds that had been drawn down. I had been greeted by no more than a slightly stained sign, politely telling me to “please seat yourself”. Not one to cause waves, or, at least, not one to cause waves at 8 o’clock in the morning, I obliged.

As I walked the floor to take my seat, I noted my surroundings. The room was simple and common. A series of booths lined against the window, several empty, but several more containing people either working on their plans for the day, or working to have one last meal before heading off to sleep off the remnants of their extended Friday night. Each table was little more than pressboard that had been laminated with a faux-grain. Each table adorned with the tools of the diner – Ketchup, salt and pepper, cream and sugar. On the other side of the room, an extended bar with a dozen or so stools that had each been bolted into the floor.

The floor is where the story of any restaurant can be found. This one seemed both clean and dirty at the same time, indicating that no amount of scrubbing could wipe away the fifty years of customers that had trodden upon it. The linoleum was starting to wear thin.

This was the type of place where one could guess what was on the menu before looking at it. Omelets and fried eggs, pancakes and waffles, all were available here. It was the choices of bratwurst and keilbasa that stuck out, for these are items rarely found in the diners of the Pacific Northwest. As I sat down, I knew exactly what I was to order. For a diner such as this, there was only one option – the Chicken Fried Steak.

After the overworked waitress took my order, I briefly noted the slight din created by the other customers, and began to think about my surroundings.

I suppose that the restaurants one frequent speak volumes about ones personality. I wondered what it said about me that I love diners, even mediocre, nondescript ones. While other breakfast and brunch places come and go as fashion dictates, there’s a class of diners in America that are just there. Ignored by some, these places are both predictable, and reliable, characteristics that have little sizzle and even less “sexy” for urban professionals to get worked up for.

These types of places just work. Many of the diners I have visited in my travels have a pulse about them, one that indicates some sort of progression. Whether that progression is a metaphor for life, or for working-American culture, I am not sure, though a case could be made for either. What I do know is that in these places, no one cares of your successes or failures. Pretense isn’t just frowned upon at places like these, it’s outright unknown. And rare is the diner that appreciates irony. Diners have cooks, not chefs, and waitresses, not servers.

Speaking of the waitresses, smiling is allowed, but not required, because sometimes it’s difficult to give one’s all for a two dollar tip on ten dollar tab. Besides, if the coffee is good enough, and the food served fast enough, that’s the bare minimum that needs to be hit in places such as these. Everything else is gravy.

I tucked into my breakfast and made an observation, similar to one that I had made back when I was growing up in Pittsburgh. There’s a connection between the restaurant and its clientele. Some people are content to put in their hours and do their job well. There’s no need to make a fuss about it, and certainly no need to call attention to it. Be good at what you do, and be predictable at doing it. Anything more is showing off, and anything less is not worth one’s time.

I finished up my cup of coffee, pushed my plate away, and took out the requisite amount of money to pay for my meal. The Diner had accomplished all it had intended to do, and had done so without fanfare and fireworks.

I could not have asked for anything more. Especially at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning.