Free lunch

Free lunch

The phrase free lunch, in U. S. literature from about 1870 to 1920, refers to a tradition once common in saloons in many places in the United States. These establishments included a "free" lunch, varying from rudimentary to quite elaborate, with the purchase of at least one drink. These free lunches were typically worth far more than the price of a single drink. The saloon-keeper relied on the expectation that most customers would buy more than one drink, and that the practice would build patronage for other times of day.

The saying "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch" refers to this custom, meaning that things which appear to be free are always paid for in some way.


In 1872 The New York Times wrote of elaborate free lunches as a "custom peculiar to the Crescent City" (New Orleans), saying that "in every one of the drinking saloons which fill the city a meal of some sort is served free every day. The custom appears to have prevailed long before the war.... I am informed that there are thousands of men in this city who live entirely on meals obtained in this way." As described by this reporter,

A free-lunch counter is a great leveler of classes, and when a man takes a position before one of them he must give up all hope of appearing dignified.... all classes of the people can be seen partaking of these free meals and pushing and scrambling to be helped a second time. [At one saloon] six men were engaged in preparing drinks for the crowd that stood in front of the counter. I noticed that the price charged for every form of liquor was fifteen cents, punches and cobblers costing no more than a glass of ale.
The repast included "immense dishes of butter," large baskets of bread, "a monster silver boiler filled with a most excellent oyster soup... a round of beef that must have weighed forty pounds," vessels filled with potatoes, stewed mutton, stewed tomatoes, "macaroni "à la Français." The proprietor said that the patrons included "at least a dozen old fellows who come in here every day, take one fifteen cent drink, eat a dinner which would have cost them $1 in a restaurant, and then complain that the beef is tough or the potatoes watery.""Free Lunch in the South." The New York Times, Feb 20, 1875, p. 4. Re value of the lunch, this source speaks of patrons who "take one fifteen cent drink [and] eat a dinner which would have cost them $1 in a restaurant."] ($0.15 in 1872 is roughly equivalent to $2.30 today; $1 in 1872 to $15 today) [ [ The Inflation Calculator ] ]

The Free Lunch Fiend

The nearly-indigent "free-lunch fiend" was a recognized social type. An 1872 New York Times story about "Loafers and free-lunch men" who "toil not, neither to they spin, yet they 'get along,'" visiting saloons, trying to bum drinks from strangers; "should this inexplicable lunch-fiend not be called to drink, he devours whatever he can, and while the bartender is occupied, attempts to escape unnoticed." ["The Loafer and Free-Lunch Men;" The New York Times, June 30, 1872, p. 6] .

The custom was well-developed in San Francisco. An 1886 story on the fading of the days of '49 in San Francisco calls "The free lunch fiend the only landmark of the past." It asks "How do all these idle people live" and asserts "it is the free lunch system that keeps them alive. Take away that peculiarly California institution and they would starve." ["Old Things Passing Away," The New York Times, March 5, 1886, p. 2] Rudyard Kipling, writing in 1891, noted how he

came upon a barroom full of bad Salon pictures in which men with hats on the backs of their heads were wolfing food from a counter. It was the institution of the "free lunch" I had struck. You paid for a drink and got as much as you wanted to eat. For something less than a rupee a day a man can feed himself sumptuously in San Francisco, even though he be a bankrupt. Remember this if ever you are stranded in these parts. [cite book|first=Rudyard|last=Kipling|title=American Notes|publisher=Standard Book Company|year=1930 (published in book form in 1930, based on essays which appeared in periodicals in 1891) Gutenberg|no=977|name=American Notes by Rudyard Kipling]

A 1919 novel compared the experience to a war zone by saying "the shells and shrapnels was flyin round and over our heads thicker than hungry bums around a free lunch counter." [cite book|title=Love Letters of a Rookie to Julie|author=Barney Stone|year=1919|publisher=The Sherwood Company Gutenberg|no=15544|name=Love Letters of a Rookie to Julie by Barney Stone]


The temperance movement opposed the free lunch as promoting the consumption of alcohol. An 1874 history of the movement writes:

In the cities, there are prominent rooms on fashionable streets that hold out the sign "Free Lunch." Does it mean that some [philanthropist] ... has gone systematically to work setting out tables ... placing about them a score of the most beautiful and winning young ladies... hiring a band of music? Ah, no! ... there are men who do all this in order to hide the main feature of their peculiar institution. Out of sight is a well-filled bar, which is the centre about which all these other things are made to revolve. All the gathered fascinations and attractions are as so many baits to allure men into the net that is spread for them. Thus consummate art plies the work of death, and virtue, reputation, and every good are sacrificed as these worse than Moloch shrines. [cite book|title=Fifty Years History of the Temperance Cause: Intemperance the Great National Curse|first=Jane E. |last=Stebbins|coauthors=T. A. H. Brown|publisher=L. Stebbins|location=Hartford, Connecticut|year=1874, [ p. 133] ]

A number of writers, however, suggest that the free lunch actually performed a social relief function. Reformer William T. Stead commented that in winter in 1894 the suffering of the poor in need of food

would have been very much greater had it not been for the help given by the labor unions to their members and for an agency which, without pretending to be of much account from a charitable point of view, nevertheless fed more hungry people in Chicago than all the other agencies, religious, charitable, and municipal, put together. I refer to the Free Lunch of the saloons. There are from six to seven thousand saloons in Chicago. In one half of these a free lunch is provided every day of the week."
He states that "in many cases the free lunch is really a free lunch," citing an example of a saloon which did not insist on a drink purchase, although commenting that this saloon was "better than its neighbors." Stead cites a newspaper's estimate that the saloon keepers fed 60,000 people a day and that this represented a contribution of about $18,000 a week toward the relief of the destitute in Chicago. [cite book|title=If Christ Came to Chicago|first=William T.|last=Stead|year=1894|publisher=Laird & Lee, [ pp. 139-140] ]

In 1896, the New York State legislature passed the Raines law which was intended to regulate liquor traffic. Among its many provisions, one forbade the sale of liquor unless accompanied by food, while another outlawed the free lunch. In 1897, however, it was amended to again allow free lunches. ["Revolt in Clubdom; Probability of Passage of Amendments to Raines Law Causes Consternation; Free Lunch to Come Back." "The Boston Globe," April 9, 1897, p. 12]


ee also

* Milton Friedman
* National School Lunch Act - another common use of the term "free lunch" in the U.S., providing taxpayer-subsidized free lunches to students
* No Free Lunch (organization)
* No free lunch in search and optimization
* The Free Lunch Is Over (computing)

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Поможем решить контрольную работу

Look at other dictionaries:

  • free lunch — ☆ free lunch n. [from the former practice in some saloons of offering free lunches to purchasers of drinks] Informal something that costs nothing: often used in negative constructions, suggesting hidden obligations or the shifting of liability to …   English World dictionary

  • free lunch — free′ lunch′ n. cvb something given with no expectation of repayment or obligation • Etymology: 1835–45 …   From formal English to slang

  • free lunch — noun something acquired without effort or payment or obligation there is no free lunch in politics or Hollywood • Hypernyms: ↑gift * * * I. noun : a buffet lunch formerly available in certain bars or saloons to those buying drinks II. noun :… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Free Lunch — A situation in which a good or service is received at no cost, with the true cost of the good or service ultimately borne by some party, which may even include the recipient. A free lunch was often offered during the 1800s to bar patrons who… …   Investment dictionary

  • free lunch —    The expression there s no such thing as a free lunch means that nothing is free. If somebody helps you, they always expect some form of payment in return.     If you accept his offer, he ll be forever asking you for favours. There s no such… …   English Idioms & idiomatic expressions

  • free lunch — /fri ˈlʌntʃ/ (say free lunch) noun 1. US food given without charge, as in a hotel to encourage the purchase of drinks. –phrase 2. there s no such thing as a free lunch, (an expression used to communicate the view that anything which appears to be …  

  • free lunch — n. something free. (Often negative.) □ There is no such thing as a free lunch. □ There’s always somebody who’ll do anything to get a free lunch …   Dictionary of American slang and colloquial expressions

  • free lunch — 1. food provided without charge in some bars and saloons to attract customers. 2. Informal. something given with no expectation of repayment, service, responsibility, etc.: In politics there s no free lunch everyone expects favors to be repaid.… …   Universalium

  • free lunch —  Something for nothing proverbially, what there is no such thing as. In business the saying “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” means that everything has a cost …   American business jargon

  • Free lunch (disambiguation) — Free lunch is an English expressionIt can also refer to:* Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With The Bill , a book by David Cay Johnston * The Free Lunch, a novel by Spider Robinson *… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”