The total number may surprise, but diners almost feel like part of the New Jersey landscape, with local favorites cropping up in small towns and larger eateries strategically located near exits on the interstate.
But what accounts for the state’s diner density (particularly before the pandemic)? One factor is New Jersey’s extensive network of roads and highways. People on the go needed someplace to stop and eat. The state’s location between two major metropolitan centers — New York City and Philadelphia — is a related reason. It put travelers and tourists on those roads.
The Garden State’s working-class heritage is also a factor: Diners typically delivered good, cheap food round-the-clock. The catchphrase “Breakfast served all day” instantly conjures up a laminated diner menu that goes on for pages.
Let’s get back to that cheap food. A family of four would have shelled out a whopping $1.79 all told for a diner breakfast in 1937 (eggs, bacon, hash browns, OJ and coffee). A decade later that cholesterol feast would cost $3.00, while the 1957 tab would have inched up to $3.67. By the end of the 20th century a family breakfast would have cost $12.05, which still sounds ludicrously low.
So much for the trip in the time machine. These days, a diner breakfast will cost a minimum of $10.00 per person, so our family of four will be lucky to walk away from the breakfast table with a $40 tab, sans tip.
In one of those strange, if-you-build-it-they-will-come coincidences, New Jersey is also the country’s leading manufacturer of diners themselves — ranging from retro art-deco styles to sleek, futuristic shells. While you’re pondering the cosmic significance of this little-known fact, do you want me to freshen up your coffee?