Definition of cafeteria in US English:



  • 1A restaurant or dining room in a school or a business in which customers serve themselves or are served from a counter and pay before eating.

    • ‘They got all the food onto the trays and went out into the cafeteria to begin serving.’
    • ‘Workplace cafeterias and buffets still serve rudimentary midday meals for workers, but even these inexpensive meals are out of reach for many people.’
    • ‘Several were sitting on stools and chairs around the several bars or near the cafeterias serving convenience food.’
    • ‘Federal law states that while irradiated meat must be labeled in grocery stores, it does not have to be labeled when served in school cafeterias, restaurants or hospitals.’
    • ‘At that, she pulled out a can of root beer and one of the small cups of ice cream that the cafeteria served.’
    • ‘The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the organizers have failed to provide any restaurants or cafeterias.’
    • ‘Decadent, adults-only desserts that warm over your soul provide an escape from hum-drum food found in university cafeterias and surrounding student-oriented restaurants.’
    • ‘Cafés and cafeterias serve open-faced sandwiches with cold meats, smoked fish, or cheese as well as simple but substantial meals of meat or fish and boiled potatoes.’
    • ‘Nevertheless, Food Services wants you to know that the food you are eating at on-campus restaurants and cafeterias is probably some of the safest food in the city.’
    • ‘She adds that the entire area of foodservice, including restaurants, hotels, cafeterias, and health care facilities, are now catching on to the aseptic phenomenon.’
    • ‘There were several cafeterias and restaurants inside, frequented by visitors and hurried workers alike.’
    • ‘It would have applied to any food produced or sold in Oregon (but not to food sold in restaurants, cafeterias, or venues such as sporting events).’
    • ‘Bill suggests checking with churches, school cafeterias or even restaurants for waste you can use in your compost pile.’
    • ‘And in any case, isn't it better in organisational terms to encourage them to congregate around the water cooler or in the restaurants or cafeterias which, one assumes, form part of this massively expensive complex?’
    • ‘Their cafeterias serve burgers with barbecue sauce, peanut butter and jelly, even lobster - all imported, not least as a precaution against poisoning.’
    • ‘Every day, more than 27 million children line up in school cafeterias to be served lunch that might include cheeseburgers and fries, pizza sticks with marinara sauce, pigs in a blanket or perhaps triangle-shaped fish.’
    • ‘It is described as being a cafeteria and bistro serving simple food.’
    • ‘The filmmaker offers up protein and fibre for the mind with this meal, exploring the growing obesity crisis in America and exposing what many American school cafeterias are serving children for lunch.’
    • ‘The Government has announced its intention to ban smoking in all factories, cafeterias, restaurants and pubs where food is served by next year.’
    • ‘Since last November, the local government prohibited the production and sale of traditional plastic bags and containers, which are primarily used in restaurants and cafeterias.’
    self-service restaurant, canteen, cafe, restaurant, buffet
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1North American as modifier Denoting a system in which people may choose from a number of available options, especially one in which an employee may select a personal package of company benefits.
      ‘employers who offer cafeteria plans and other flexible programs’
      • ‘Cafeteria plans lower taxes for both employers and employees.’
      • ‘The cafeteria plans appears to be a sure-fire way to increase employee take-home pay.’
      • ‘The cafeteria plans of most large employers contain one or both of these arrangements as an integral part of the plan.’


Mid 19th century (originally US): from Latin American Spanish cafetería ‘coffee shop’.