I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


14 December 2013

Self-serving tables: a bizarre invention

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:

Both of these patents were listed as relevant by the USPTO patent examiner in Smorgasphere's 1967 filing for the 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.

Cheaper than all this is surely the idea of dishes going past the guests so that they can select those that they want, as seen in some Oriental restaurants.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Self - serving tables might have seemed very bizarre nearly a hundred years ago and while I still haven't seen such a set up many, restaurants are part way there with electronic order taking transmitting to the kitchen - occasionally built into the table or by mobile phone if the service is slow, though food is still delivered and empty plates removed by mere humans.

    On the other hand something close to it has been used for many years in automated warehouses, some vending machines and dry-cleaners garment rack conveyors, more recent models incorporating payment systems while accepting soiled clothes
    and delivering cleaned items via a hole-in-the-wall chute when the shop is unattended > http://www.hiemac.com.au/portfolio-view/24-7-unattended-dry-clean-doors/

    Many people already have robots in their homes - vacuum cleaners, lawnmowers, even 'phone answering services / machines may be considered robotic.

    Stuart Fox