Yesterday’s Buffet: A Look at the Mid-Century Smörgåsbord

The buffet’s time had truly arrived in post-WWII America. Enjoying an unprecedented economic boom, the “table of plenty” fit perfectly within this period.  Gone were the Depression-era days of meager portions, and gone were the WWII days of rationing.  In Cold War America, tables bent beneath the weight of the mighty buffet.

The buffet’s time had truly arrived in post-WWII America. Enjoying an unprecedented economic boom, the “table of plenty” fit perfectly within this period.  Gone were the Depression-era days of meager portions, and gone were the WWII days of rationing.  In Cold War America, tables bent beneath the weight of the mighty buffet.

Let’s have a look at the 1950s-1960s buffet.  So, grab a plate and get in line – and enjoy!

Decked out with festive fake gapes, this small buffet has more than its share of meat.  Not sure why the lad is choosing a wad of droopy veggies over the piles of glistening meat; maybe the full pig turned him off meat for the evening.

If you can distract your eyes from the lobster arch, each wearing an ornate edible hat, you’ll see the fish with enormous cartoon eyes.  Now that’s a buffet you won’t find at the Sizzler!

From The Professional Chef’s Book of Buffets by George K. Waldner and Klaus Mitterhauser (1968)

Don the Beachcomber restaurants flourished during the mid-century Tiki fad; their big rival was Trader Vic’s.  Both places claimed to have invented the Mai-Tai (as the sign proclaims above).

Silver Slipper Chuck Wagon – Las Vegas, Nevada

“Traditional with the Old West, Chuck Wagon is served around the clock 24 hours a day. Over one million patrons were served during the past year. More than 50 Epicurian delights are yours for the taking. Dinners are 98 cents – Luncheon 89 cents and Breakfast is 98 cents.”

Two of those Epicurean Delights appear to be red Jell-O and green Jell-O.

(L) Venetian Room at the Sheridan Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, (R) “Treat to eye as well as palate, this shrimp tree graced a buffet table at the dedication of the Society’s new headquarters in Washington last year.  Sue Bonine samples the luscious pink ‘fruit’.”

It was at this moment that Edith realized her whole life had been a hollow sham; an emptiness she filled with cakes.

Aside from Scandinavian immigrants, the word “smorgasbord” wasn’t a term known in the United States until the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, where it was served at the Swedish Pavilion.  From there, various restaurants started touting their own versions of the Smörgåsbord; until, by the mid-sixties, the term had become generalized to mean simply “buffet”.

Enjoy our cafeteria style buffet.  Pick your dishes – just don’t speak to the staff  – with their dead, hollow eyes.   Avoid eye contact and keep moving.

The Gold Buffet in Kansas City, Missouri; a buffet that also featured a miniature golf course and bowling alley. You were definitely living the American Dream at the Gold Buffet.

In case you hadn’t picked up on this, Mid-Century buffets had a tendency to go beyond extravagant and land squarely in the domain of gaudy.

Bob innocently serves the lusty office secretary the cheese, while his wife Pam looks on with a cold, piercing stare.

Luau Buffet at The Yankee Clipper in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Smithville Inn – Abescon, New Jersey – Famous for their “Jersey Devil Cocktail, country Buffet Luncheon and Dinner Extraordinary”.  For more splendor from the Garden State, see The Foods of Provincial New Jersey In Vintage Postcards.