“Everybody likes to eat!” exclaims the narrator of this educational film from 1946. “Whether it’s a hot dog at the county fair or a full-course dinner at the Ritz, there’s no denying that people like to eat.” That’s hardly a revelation, but the point was to show that there’s a thriving industry — restaurants — “doing over $2 billion of business annually” ($864 billion in 2019).
“The Restaurant Operator” is part of a series called “Your Life’s Work” from Vocational Guidance Films, Inc. It’s fascinating on its own as a time capsule (the clothes, the restaurant signs, the interiors) but also shows how far the industry’s come (and sometimes how similar it is to today).
It starts with familiar-sounding retro-schmaltzy infomercial music and a deathly serious male narrator setting the scene. Over ten minutes, he explains that there are many types of restaurants these days and (here’s the crucial thing) that operating a business requires more than just great cooking skills. Aunt Martha’s eatery does not succeed despite her prowess in the kitchen; her business didn’t get the foot traffic needed (sound familiar?).
Below are some highlights with timestamps.
Types of Restaurants
1:34 Table service includes coffee shops and tea rooms
2:20 Self-service includes cafeterias and buffets
2:43 Counter service includes the corner drugstore, an “outgrowth from the serving of ice cream” and luncheonette
3:15 Drive-in or curb service is like a “restaurant, soda fountain and picnic all rolled into one.”
4:20 Emphasis on handwashing and strict sanitary conditions
4:48 Nearly all the women wear hats when seated at the restaurant.
6:10 Meet Aunt Martha and see her delicious pies, puddings, and muffins (“mmm-hmm”)
7:30 Newspaper shows headline with “50% Restaurants Fail First Year”
Manuscripts by Arthur P. Twogood
Professor Vocational Education Iowa State College
From the Prelinger Archives