By Mark McConville
PEEK INSIDE the mid-Twentieth century’s answer to Starbucks via the retro-images showing what was once the world’s largest restaurant chain Lyons with the London West End branch featured being the largest restaurant in the world at the time.
The stunning shots, as revealed by website Retronaut, show waitresses in a staff meeting in the art deco dining room, before the restaurant is open, kitchen staff making up plates of food ready for ordering and a pastry chef topping the eclairs with chocolate.
Other incredible images show waitresses in the staff wash room getting ready for their shift, the line up for the staff canteen and a waitress struggling to fit all the order on her tray watched by her supervisor.
In 1952, when these behind-the-scenes photographs were taken, Lyons was the world’s largest restaurant company and, seating more than 2,000 people, the Lyons Corner House at Coventry Street was the largest restaurant in the world.
Opening in London’s West End in 1909, Lyons Corner Houses were a prominent part of the Lyons empire. Each one occupied several floors of a building, with a shop on the ground floor selling a variety of cakes, sweets, fruit and items from a delicatessen counter. The Corner Houses also had hairdressing salons and telephone booths. A differently themed restaurant existed on each of the four or five floors, each with its own musicians.
Both the Lyons Corner Houses and the Lyons Tea shops had a signature Art Deco style and the waitresses, known as ‘Nippies’, had a distinctive uniform and cap. At its peak, each Lyons Corner House employed 400 staff.
To keep the restaurants supplied, a food production factory in Hammersmith produced pies, bread, and cakes and other items. And to control the logistics of dealing with perishable food items within such a large company, Lyons became the first such company to develop and use computerised systems.
By the 1960s, however, the teashops were being eclipsed by fashionable coffee houses, and were losing money. The last Corner House was closed in 1977.
For more information see http://www.retronaut.com