Counter Culture

Dining To Meet You

Another hallmark of diner dining is durability. A good diner is a place customers can stomach on a regular basis. "Our goal was to build a restaurant where people could eat week after week and never tire of it," says Giaimo. Whether for the cooking, the informal atmosphere, the accommodating hours or the conviviality of counter dining, folks tend to come back to diners again and again, more than other types of restaurants.

According to Linda D'Auria, owner of the 40-year-old Winter Park Diner in Winter Park, Florida, the relationship between a diner and its patrons is anything but casual. "People feel like they're at home here," D'Auria explains. "Familiarity is a big deal. The workers have all been here for a long time, and everybody's really friendly."

The formula for creating a regular hangout includes staying on top of your market, changing with consumer tastes and maintaining high service standards. But it also involves an indefinable quality that Providence, Rhode Island, diner historian and restorer Daniel Zilka calls "personality."

"Every city you go to is starting to look the same," Zilka explains. "There's the Wal-Mart, the K mart, the McDonald's and the Burger King. But each diner has its own personality. A diner can really belong to its neighborhood."

Moreover, diner culture is like no other. "You can sit next to someone at a diner and strike up a conversation," Zilka notes. "You probably wouldn't feel comfortable doing that in a booth at Burger King."

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This article was originally published in the November 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Counter Culture.

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