NYPL Exhibitions

Workers in Midtown

As early as 1916 the New-York Tribune reported that female workers were dismayed by the lack of nourishing, reasonably priced food in midtown. Some 40 years later the problem was even more pressing, for workers of both sexes. Blue-collar workers often brought lunch from home, and office workers, reported The New York Times in 1956, had to “fend for themselves in elbow-tight snack bars, and in cafeterias where tray-toting is a daily exasperation.” As soon as they could afford it, working women made the switch to the more upscale Schrafft’s, a popular chain of restaurants famous for cheese bread, excellent vegetables, and ice cream. Increasingly, however, new office buildings were making space for employee cafeterias that offered well-priced food in comfortable, convenient surroundings—and assured employers that staff would stay close to their offices even while on their breaks.