Diner wall menu boards from the 1950s are "the stuff" that lives in the dreams of baby boomers and period movie directors. Menu boards played supporting roles as props on the sets of classic movies and televisions shows like "Diner" and "Happy Days." While today's restaurants promote healthy eating choices and low-calorie options, diner menu boards of the 1950s played up butter, gravy, an extra scoop of this and all-you-can-eat of that. Ah, those were the days.
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Blue Plate Special
Diner owners would post a "Blue Plate Special" on a menu board made of paper, plastic or on a chalkboard on a wall where everyone could see it. A "blue plate special" was the term used to describe a meal that customers could get for a low price. The classic blue plate special would have three vegetables and one meat, such as meat loaf, mashed potatoes, runner beans and carrots. In most cases, the blue plate special would change from day to day.
Sandwich-Style Chalk Boards
Sandwich-style chalkboards were common to use as menu boards because of their versatility. They consisted of two hinged chalkboards. The restaurant owner could take the menu board down from the wall, set it up on the floor or even put it up outside to attract customers. Chalkboards were efficient because diner owners could change the menu each day and erase an item that ran out.
Menu Signs and Poster Boards
The wall space above the grill of a diner was prime real estate for menu boards. The long length of wall space was just the spot to advertise menus for everyday menu items. The poster boards were often small, no more than the length of a legal size of paper. They displayed the cost for a hamburger and a soda, a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of soup, a slice of apple, lemon or blueberry pie, and a list of flavours to choose for a malted milk. While customers sat on stools at the diner counter, they could look up and gaze at the menu boards to figure out what their taste buds were telling them to order.
Vendor-Sponsored Menu Boards
Big vendors, beverage producers in particular, would often provide menu boards for small mom-and-pop restaurants and diners. This was done to get customers to order their brand of soda pop or food item. Pictures of advertising character icons like Borden Company's "Elsie the Cow," Kellogg's "Tony the Tiger" and the Campbell's Soup boy character would decorate the edges of the menu boards. They were typically specially manufactured chalkboard menu boards that included the vendor's company slogan, logo and advertising character -- if they had one. The vendors would offer the menu boards for free or as a perk to diner operators to use their brand versus products from a competitor. The menu boards were highly attractive to owners because they were well designed, durable and beyond the scope of anything most diner owners could afford to produce independently.
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