Anecdote Index






(23) by John Hall

(Webmaster: John Hall was not an employee of J. Lyons & Co. but I have included this recollection here in the hope that it may revive some memories among former employees.)


As a youngster in the late 1940s, one of my delights was to be taken by my parents for a meal in the self-service cafeteria of the Lyons Corner House in the Strand, London.  The management there had introduced a fixed-price meal (about 1s 9d if I remember correctly), the idea being that you could take from the display just as much as you could fit on your tray.  This, for a young teenager like myself, seemed too good to be true!

However, the management had wisely introduced a novel innovation to limit the amount of food that could physically be put on the trays by any greedy customers.  For, having taken a tray from the pile, the tray would begin moving by itself along the rail, transported by an inlaid conveyor system.  Apart from keeping the crowds moving, this innovation clearly had the effect of severely limiting the amount of food that could be transferred from the display racks to the trays - there was no time to hesitate in your choice of food, otherwise you would find that your tray would miraculously be carried a few yards ahead in the direction of the cashier at the end of the line!  Often, I remember, my visits were punctuated by healthy sprints to catch up with my tray!

The "moving tray" concept in the Strand Corner House was the only place I ever discovered such a conveyor belt (not to be confused, of course, with the conveyor belts in sushi cafeterias that arrived in England much later and where the displayed food, not the customers' trays, is placed on the moving belt).

I wonder if any former employees of J. Lyons & Co have memories (fond or otherwise) of the conveyor belt cafeteria(s).  Was the conveyor belt a successful innovation?  Were there many accidents involving the self-propelled trays?  And when were the conveyor belts eventually discontinued?


© John Hall 2004