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[kaf-i-teer-ee-uh] /ˌkæf ɪˈtɪər i ə/
a restaurant in which patrons wait on themselves, carrying their food to tables from counters where it is displayed and served.
a lunchroom or dining hall, as in a factory, office, or school, where food is served from counters or dispensed from vending machines or where food brought from home may be eaten.
1830-40, Americanism; < American Spanish cafetería café, equivalent to Spanish cafeter(a) coffeemaker (< French caf(f)etière; café coffee + -ière, feminine of -ier -ier2; t apparently by analogy with words such as bouquetière flower seller, from bases ending in t) + -ía -ia Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for cafeteria
  • They thought they'd help themselves, on the cafeteria principle, to the maximum amount they could safely get away with.
  • Now a new study suggests that the same strategy can get kids to make healthy choices in the school cafeteria.
  • Muskrat lunch was also available in the school cafeteria.
  • The camps are on college campuses, and so lunch is usually at the college cafeteria.
  • Nieves is one of nine employees of a cafeteria that is operated by clients for clients.
  • It's always something, she says with a shrug over coffee in the police cafeteria.
  • Homework horror stories are as timeworn as school bullies and cafeteria mystery meat.
  • They had a school of home economics there, and it had a cafeteria which was cheap and wonderful.
  • Even in the school cafeteria students of all ages can mingle.
  • The museum's cafeteria offers hearty, healthy fare at reasonable prices.
British Dictionary definitions for cafeteria


a self-service restaurant
Word Origin
C20: from American Spanish: coffee shop
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for cafeteria

1839, American English, from Mexican Spanish cafeteria "coffee store," from café "coffee" (see coffee) + Spanish -tería "place where something is done" (usually business). The ending came to be understood popularly as meaning "help-yourself" (as though café + -teria) and was extended to new formation with that sense from c.1923.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for cafeteria



Allowing a range of choice; Smorgasbord: cafeteria insurance plans (1980s+)

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Encyclopedia Article for cafeteria

self-service restaurant in which customers select various dishes from an open-counter display. The food is usually placed on a tray, paid for at a cashier's station, and carried to a dining table by the customer. The modern cafeteria, designed to facilitate a smooth flow of patrons, is particularly well-adapted to the needs of institutions-schools, hospitals, corporations-attempting to serve large numbers of people efficiently and inexpensively. In addition to providing quick service, the cafeteria requires fewer service personnel than most other commercial eating establishments.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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