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File:Greasyspoon 8439.jpg
"Is there anything on this menu that is not swimming in gravy?"

A standard setting. 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," "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!" and "three brown cows for Table 4!" 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, milkshakes, chicken-fried steak[1], biscuits[2] and sausage gravy, etc., all washed down with bottomless, vile, and well-boiled coffee. The following menu items are especially likely to crop up:
    • Mile-high sandwiches that even the biggest Big Eater may have trouble with.
    • Breakfast plates that could well last you all day. The bacon is always perfect.
    • The "Best Darn X Pie in the Nation." Frequently pumpkin, apple, or cherry; occasionally blueberry. Or pecan if you're in the south, pronounced "pea-can".
    • A secret or legendary menu item, that stuns the patrons into silence when it is ordered. Sometimes there is a place of honor on the wall for pictures of patrons who have successfully finished the dish.
    • If it's set in the Deep South, expect grits to be served with every meal. If the main characters are Northerners, expect them to treat the grits as some sort of Mystery Meat.
  • Many, many very burly patrons in flannel shirts and mesh-back baseball caps, as the Greasy Spoon is the stereotypical favorite eatery of truckers. Also of leather-clad bikers and redneck shot-kickers. Of course, the trucker thing is really a bit self-fulfilling: most sushi bistros and French provincial restaurants don't have seventy-foot parking spaces, double-sided diesel pumps, or rental showers.
    • If the diner is in a city, on the other hand, nix the truckers (and associated paraphernalia) and replace them with a mix of working-class types and the occasional Starving Student (splurging, given their kind of budget) in the daytime, and drunks of every description starting around 1 or 2 AM and ending anytime from 3 or 4 AM to sunrise (all this depends on what day of the week it is and what kind of town it's in).
      • Note: On weekends, the previous night's drunks may amble in sometime around noon (at the earliest) to partake of the coffee and breakfast items.
      • Law enforcement also favors the greasy spoon, particularly when they're out of their own hometown.
  • Urban greasy spoons are likely to be owned by some kind of "ethnic" family, most commonly Greek. These typically offer gyros alongside their burgers; depending on when you show up, these might (just might) also have saganaki. Opa!
  • If the Greasy Spoon is meant to evoke a "50's diner" feel, it may have jukeboxes at the tables.
    • These may feature modern music. Do not play that music. You will anger everybody.
  • A Diner Brawl might break out at some point.
    • Often due to someone playing the aforementioned modern music.
    • These might also break out at one of the aforementioned urban diners during the after-bar rush; this has been aptly described as the Porting Disaster of the Bar Brawl.

There exists a British version of the Greasy Spoon, catering to roughly the same demographic and serving a broadly similar role. It features:

  • All day breakfast -- some combination of fried eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, hash browns, toast, fried bread, mushrooms and black pudding. Occasionally there will be fried tomato, for some unfathomable reason.
  • Non-breakfast foods tend to follow the same general theme -- enough calories to sustain patrons through at least half a shift of exhausting manual labour and to hell with vitamins -- only with fries instead of hash browns. Vegetarian options will range from limited and not terribly appetising to almost non-existent.
  • Some examples in coastal areas will often serve fish and chips, and be at least slightly more upmarket by virtue of catering to the tourist trade.
  • Khaki-drab tea, strong enough (almost) to stand a spoon in, served with pretty much everything as the alternative is usually the tins of room temperature soft drinks that have been there since the 1980s. Drink with a great deal of sugar if at all. Occasionally there will also be coffee, either reminiscent of that served in the North American version or instant.
  • Charmingly dirty kitchens and tables.
  • Filthy toilets, often with metal troughs. Averted somewhat in Real Life these days now that public health inspections are taken more seriously.
  • The designation "cafe", without the accent and pronounced "caff".
  • The British version tends to be urban, and feature more builders, refuse collectors and similar labourers than truckers, although there is also the Motorway Services cafe. The latter is now sadly a dying breed, since motorway service stations are often run by one of a few big chains.

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.


American Examples

Art


Comics

  • 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 and 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.
  • The "Gunga Diner" in Watchmen.


Film

  • Pee Wee's 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.
    • It was apparently within walking distance of the North Pole, since Clark and Lois were at the Fortress of Solitude with no transportation when Clark renounced his super-powers. Actually, they just drove there. Clark mentions a sore back from the driving.
  • 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 based on her.
  • 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.
  • 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 Smokey and the Bandit movies, a Greasy Spoon is referred to as a "Choke-and-puke".
  • Star Wars, of all movies, features one in Attack of the Clones: Dex's Diner, owned by Dex Jettster. Apparently its owner has a bit of a past.


Literature

  • "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.


Live Action TV

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • There's one in The 4400 wherein the pies cause a 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 Can't 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 Two 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).


Newspaper Comics

 (Sir Rodney notices a sign behind the counter reading, ASK ABOUT OUR TUNA SALAD .)

Sir Rodney: How's the tuna salad?

Chef: It's poison.

Sir Rodney: Then why the sign?

Chef: Sometimes I forget.


Video Games

  • Stinky's Diner in the Sam and Max Freelance Police games from Telltale Games. The Lucasarts game Sam and 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 Fahrenheit (2005 video game).


Web Comics

  • 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.


Western Animation

  • 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?"[3]
  • 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 Brothers 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).


Real Life

  • Mickey's Dinning 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 (The Movie)).
  • 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).
  • White Rose System, aka White Rose Hamburgers, in Highland Park, NJ and New Brunswick, NJ.


British Examples

Board Games

  • Lenny Henry's Stand-Up Comic Board Game had several squares marked "Greasy Spoon", representing some of the jobs comics take before getting their big break (others were marked "Valet Parking").


Film

  • LV's mother in Little Voice frequents one of these for breakfast with her friend.
  • Withnail and 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.
  • Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Features one in downtown London.


Literature

  • 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.


Live-Action TV

  • 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.


Music

  • The American version of the Music Video for Radiohead's song "High and Dry" features one of these. (The other, British, version was filmed first, but the band disliked it enough to film the American version.)
  • The back cover of Supertramp's Breakfast in America album depicts one of these.
  • Barry Cryer and Ron Golden's song "Truffles" is about one of these, to a tune that's a mashup of Elvis Presley's "Trouble" ("If you're looking for truffles, you've come to the wrong place") and Peggy Lee's "I'm A Woman" ("Because we're British, B.R.I.T.I.S.H./So don't push it, mate").

 But say egg and chips,

And you've broken the code.

We'll get the HP Sauce out and the show is on the road.


Radio

  • The Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama Horror of Glam Rock by Paul Magrs is set in a motorway service station.


Examples of Greasy Spoon analogues in fantastic settings

Film

  • Attack of the Clones features Obi Wan going to one of these to talk to an informant.
  • Spaceballs had one of these. In space. Don't order the special.
    • It can dance.
    • And sing. But you're probably not in any position to appreciate the show at that point. What with being dead.
  • 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.


Literature

  • "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.)
  • 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.


Live-Action TV

  • The Battlestar Galactica Reimagined Spin-Off 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.


Video Games


Western Animation

  • 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 knows to dish out the diner-speak.
  • Dot's Diner in Re Boot 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.
  • 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.

Notes

  1. A thin cut of beef that has been battered and deep-fried. There is no steak-fried chicken. That would be silly.
  2. the fluffy and savory kind that are slathered with butter
  3. For those not familiar with Mexican food, it's pronounced "Mol-ay." For those who are familiar with it, he pronounces it "Mole," like the animal.
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