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A counter in a greasy spoon in Brooklyn

A greasy spoon is a small, cheap eatery – either an American diner or coffee shop, or a British cafe – typically specializing in fried foods and/or home-cooked meals.[1][2] The term "greasy spoon" has been used in the United States since at least the 1920s;[3] and is sometimes used in the United Kingdom to refer to a cafe or caff,[2] which is not to be confused with the European term café which may mean coffeehouse or bar. 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 (MacMillan's Magazine, 1906), refers 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 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 greasy spoons focus on fried or grilled food, such as fried eggs, bacon, hamburgers, hash browns, waffles, pancakes, omelettes, deep fried chicken, and sausages. These are often accompanied by baked beans, french fries, coleslaw, or toast. Soups and chili con carne are generally available.

Since the 1970s, many Greek immigrants have entered the business. As a result, native Greek cuisine such as gyro and souvlaki meats are now a common part of the repertoire, often served as a side dish with breakfast and as a replacement for bacon or sausage.

Regional fare is often served. Coffee, iced tea, and soft drinks are the typical beverages, and pie and savouries and ice cream are popular snacks and desserts.

A typical American greasy spoon or diner may offer a full meal for a special price, sometimes called a blue-plate special. A British cafe will typically offer a "full cooked breakfast" all day. A British cafe that is beside a main road and serves passing motorists, particularly lorry (truck) drivers, is a transport cafe; this may or not be accompanied by a petrol station. A motorway service station (truck stop in America) will typically include one or more fast food restaurants such as Burger King, Greggs, or McDonald's.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Greasy spoon
  2. ^ a b Duncan Smith (13 February 2015). "Cafe culture: The survival of the traditional British 'caff'".
  3. ^ "Greasy". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
  4. ^ "greasy spoon" entry, OED
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ "Brands at Motorway Services".