Britling’s Fine Dining

Dallas Morning News, Nov. 19,1922
Dallas Morning News, Nov. 19,1922

“The new Britling “Self Service” restaurant is a distinct innovation, a definite step forward. It’s the ‘if you want it done well — then do it yourself’ saying molded out to fit the eating game. No! No! Not that you cook your own meals — you do not. You select them from our exceedingly wide and varied menu of wholesome home-cooked dishes, and so they are, if strict adherence to the customs and precedents of home kitchens will give those enticing flavors relished by all who still remember the feasts of their childhood.”

That came from a 1922 Dallas Morning News article regarding the soon to open Britling Cafeteria, a place people referred to as “Britling’s.” Birmingham and Memphis birthed the first of Britling Cafeterias. In 1921, Memphis opened their first location on Madison and the second in 1938 on Union. It was an innovative and delightful way of dining, packaged with the assurance of valued nutrient consumption. Their slogan, “Good Food Is Good Health,” you would find imprinted upon menus and matchbooks.

Quite naturally, Britling’s became a Sunday lunch tradition and today has the honor of claiming Gladys Presley, the mother of Elvis, as one of their former employees. It also imprints a gladdened memory for those who enjoyed its food and service. “Going to a cafeteria was a big deal because it was new and Britling’s was the premiere cafeteria of Memphis.“ Vicki Jackson tells us when asked about life downtown. She didn’t live downtown but she and her siblings would save up money to enjoy a day’s adventure there. As a kid, Britling’s was a specially memorable place for Vicki because, “Everything was displayed so colorfully and you could get your dessert first!”

Courtesy of Memphis & Shelby County Room Photograph Collection
Britling Cafeteria on Madison. Courtesy of Memphis & Shelby County Room Photograph Collection

For real, Vicki. You know, I’m not a kid but there’s still something about a cafeteria that enchants me. Though the concept is no longer new, it still exists. While Britling’s may have experienced its decline due to fast food restaurants just like the dinosaurs encountered asteroids, Piccadilly serves a colorful display daily to families with diverse palates. And naturally, Sunday hosts a line of fine suits and hats which I claim is evidence of a possible tradition passed on.

Though, I shall say a venue more inventive of the concept is a place called Lunch Box Eats. Located in downtown Memphis, Lunch Box Eats serves nutritional and diverse comfort food options on a tray and you can enjoy a game like Connect Four or Jenga while you wait! Genius.

Courtesy of Breezy Lucia.
Courtesy of Breezy Lucia.
Courtesy of Michael Phillips
Courtesy of Michael Phillips

To discover where the name Britling came from and a bit more great history of this cafeteria ASK VANCE – What Did H.G. Wells Have To Do With Britling Cafeterias?

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By Rebecca Phillips

I am a female born in the United States though I generally fear the border patrol. Buy me an ice cream cone and maybe I'll paint you something.

11 replies on “Britling’s Fine Dining”

Could you tell me which Britling cafeterias that Gladys Presley worked at in Memphis? The one on Union or Madison. Thanks

Was this the restaurant with a staircase and you could eat upstairs as well and also they had waiters who would carry your tray as well. This was in Memphis and the year had to have been between 1962-1965 when I lived there and I’m sure it was downtown .

Yes, Britlings had a staircase and you could eat upstairs or down. It was a very nice cafeteria and yes, the desserts were the first thing in the line and yes, waiters carried your trey! I recall a beautiful chandelier and that it was close to Goldsmith’s where my grandmother worked in the 50’s and 60’s.

In the 50’s my mother was a kitchen manager at the Britlings on Madison.

Many of my fondest childhood memories are of spending time waiting for her to finish work so we could have supper before leaving for home. Some of the kitchen staff I remember were Ruben, Listin, Ossie, Fred and Ben. If memory serves me correctly it was Bens special fried chicken that was my favorite. Those were the days.

Every dish was prepared from scratch, something thats hard to find these days. Even pudding was made from scratch and was it delicious.

Memphis certainly has changed from those happy, special childhood days from the 1950’s. But so has the rest of the world. At least I have my sweet memories of The Cotton Carnival, Tech High and Central High football games, Mr. Bingle and Dinner at Britlings on Madison.

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