An Automat is a fast food restaurant where simple foods and drink are served by coin-operated and bill-operated vending machines. Originally, the machines took only nickels but modern automat vending machines accept bills. In the original format, a cashier would sit in a change booth in the center of the restaurant, behind a wide marble counter with five to eight rounded depressions in it. She would serve many customers at once, taking their money from the depressions and dropping nickels in its place. The diner would insert the required number of coins and then slide open a window to remove the meal, which was generally wrapped in waxed paper. The machines were filled from the kitchen behind. They are still very common in The Netherlands, but outside of there, few exist. In the United States, the last one (Horn & Hardart) closed in 1991, but in 2006, an automat, BAMN, opened in New York City's East Village.
Inspired by the Quisiana Automat in Berlin, the first automat in the U.S. was opened June 12, 1902 at 818 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia by Horn & Hardart. The automat was brought to New York City in 1912 and gradually became part of popular culture in northern industrial cities. Horn & Hardart was the most prominent automat chain.
The format was threatened by the growth of suburbs and the rise of fast food restaurants catering to motorists (with their drive-thru windows) in the 1950s; by the 1970s their remaining appeal was strictly nostalgic. Another contributing factor to their demise was undoubtedly the inflation of the 1960s and 70s, making the food too expensive to be bought conveniently with coins, in a time before bill acceptors commonly appeared on vending equipment.
Another form of the Automat was used on some passenger trains, the last United States example being an Automat car on Amtrak's short-lived service to Janesville, Wisconsin in 2001. These were limited by mechanical problems, since the machines weren't necessarily intended for the bumpy ride on the rails, and state laws that prohibited alcoholic beverages from being sold by a machine.
The automat food format is still popular in some other countries. For example, FEBO stores in The Netherlands, where the automat is called Automatiek, provide a variety of burgers, sandwiches, and krokets in vending machines that are back-loaded from a kitchen.