When I was employed as a patent specialist I mainly handled new inventions, most of which were reasonable ideas. It was, however, the older patents, including the odd and even bizarre ones, which really won my heart.
One such was applied for in 1919 by Essex Deloatch of Philadelphia. The title is Motor control system for self-serving tables. The main, and deliciously detailed, drawing is shown here:
The inventor explains that the idea is to ensure that "a large number of patrons may be expeditiously served without the employment of waiters or any considerable number of attendants." It seems that the cost of labour was a worry for catering establishments even then.
He also wanted to prevent the "annoyance caused by waiters reaching past the guests seated at the table" with a mechanism operated, for all the tables, by a single operator.
Guests who are ready to be served push an electrical button in front of them. A pocket is provided in which is placed the order, the money for it, and later the change. One side of each table is adjacent to a wall with a serving hatch. Yes, that's right, the table swivels automatically so that dishes can be served and collected from the hatch. Each position at the table is noted by the operator so that the right dishes are served to each position.
The cost of the system, and the need for space to allow that each table is adjacent to a serving area behind a wall, must have, one presume, have meant that Mr Deloatch's proposal was refused when offered to restaurants. From experience I have found that inventors are often unaware of such objections, mesmerised as they are by the cleverness of the invention.
It was only after writing this post that I realised that this invention was a refinement of Deloatch's earlier patent, filed in 1915 from Newport News, VA, titled Dining or lunch room serving table, where the waiter telephones the orders through. As the drawing shows people it is even more fun:
Food server patent, where the entire table swivels through the wall. Again, did they not think of the cost ? A drawing showing the left hand of the table in the restaurant and the right half behind the scenes is shown below.
To finish off, what about the 1866 invention by William Lance of Pennsylvania, his Self-waiting table. I'd like to see this one in a restaurant if only for the novelty value.