Also known as a torture chamber. It is a place where hapless college students are sent to consume henious, toxic concotcions that are labeled as "food". Actually a conspiracy to cheat college students out of their money before the "food" kills them.
There are other kinds of cafeterias than the college cafeteria:

Each cafeteria, with the possible exception of the restaurant cafeteria, inevitably has at least one cafeteria lady. The kind of person that really doesn't look good in a hair net. The kind of person that you really don't want handling something you're about to put in your mouth.
Once you've been standing in line long enough, your tray will eventually accumulate a collection of substances which might, at some point in the past, have actually resembled something edible. Now, however, they look to you like chatty noders look to EDB.
Whether or not you had any choice as to which noxious substances in particular made the journey to your plate is dependant on the type of cafeteria in which you find yourself. School cafeterias are notorious for having a choice only of whether you get regular milk or chocolate milk. Everything else is unceremoniously dumped onto your tray. Sometimes, you don't even get a choice as to whether or not you actually ingest the stuff - they actually made us take one bite of everything before we could leave in my first grade cafeteria. I cleverly got around this by swirling my fork in each of the shapeless masses on my tray - the volume difference of a single 6-year-old bite of food out of an entire serving is kind of hard to spot, so I managed to escape to the playground with a minimum of gastrointestinal disturbance.
Things to watch out for in any non-restaurant cafeteria:
In most of the US, a cafeteria is a restaurant in which the customer walks past various display cases and bain-maries or steam tables, gathering food on a reusable tray and paying a cashier.

These cafeterias are frequently found in public school dining halls. (When the room is dual-purpose, it may also be called a cafetorium.)

The same kind of arrangement is also found, albeit rarely, outside of schools. A few hundred Piccadilly Cafeterias in the American Southeast still offer cafeteria-style dining, according to piccadilly.com. When I was younger, going to "The Pick" at the mall on Friday night was a wonderful treat. Their macaroni and cheese, broccoli and okra were all so good! Yet here I am an adult, by many indicators, and I haven't been to the Piccadilly just a mile or two away from home. I guess it's family that makes the difference.


In Miami (and probably in Cuba, and possibly in other parts of Latin America), a cafetería (cah-feh-teh-REE-ah) is something else entirely. These are the jewels of Miami: small shops with a countertop accessible from the sidewalk where you can buy a jigger of cafe Cubano, the thick sweet Cuban coffee that makes crack look like chewing gum.

Accompany your cafecito (little coffee) with a guava pastry or a croquette or buttered toast, and you'll have enjoyed a tasty hot breakfast for a dollar or two. You can recognize a cafetería from a quarter-mile away not only by its architecture (a countertop protruding from inside a streetside shop, standing room only) but also by the bright orange Igloo of cold water, with its stack of conical cups, waiting to soften the blow of a Cuban coffee.

Caf`e*te"ri*a (?), n. [Cf. F. cafetiere.]

A restaurant or cafe at which the patrons serve themselves with food kept at a counter, taking the food to small tables to eat.

[U. S.]

 

© Webster 1913.

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