The Automat was brought to New York City in 1912 and gradually became a fixture of popular culture. The most prominent operator of this format was Horn & Hardart. In the United States, this format apparently never spread beyond major northern industrial cities and hence a "trip to the Automat" became a virtual necessity for visits "up North" by travelers from southern and rural areas.
Unlike fast-food restaurants today, the original Automat was an attractive and socially acceptable place to be and be seen. During the Depression, the Automat also became an attractive value proposition: A plate of beans or macaroni and cheese cost only a few nickels.
The diner inserted the required number of coins and then slid open a window to remove the meal, which was generally wrapped in waxed paper. The food preparers inserted the product into the back of the machines, which also functioned as a wall between the kitchen and the lobby, which typically had a tile floor.
The company also popularized the notion of "take-out" food, with their slogan "Less work for Mother".
The chain remained popular through the 1950s. It declined with the rise of the Fast food restaurants; the last Automat closed in 1991.
How cool was that?!