The year is 1870, and you are traveling from New York City to California by train. You haven't eaten in two days because no food is served on the train. You get to a station with a restaurant. They have just brought out your meal that they charged you a fortune for and is probably not going to be worth eating. You pick up your fork and are about to take a bite when the conductor blows the whistle. The train was going to leave. You had to leave.
Was that damn conductor in cahoots with the restaurant? The restaurant was going to resell your meal to the next trainload that came in.
Fred Harvey changed all of that.
Fred Harvey immigrated from England at the age of 15 and became a restauranteur. He was appalled at the conditions he saw while on transcontinental train trips. He struck up a deal with the president of the Santa Fe Railroad to run the lodging and dining facilites at railroad stations. He called them Harvey House, with the first opening in 1876 in Topeka, Kansas. He eventually managed more than 100 restaurants and hotels scattered mostly in the Southwest.
Harvey House offered New York City quality dining with linens, napkins, china and silverware. The dining rooms had dress codes. The offered jackets to customers arriving without one. The food was good and was served fast and efficiently.
Train attendants took meal orders in route to the station. They would drop the orders off at a depot and the order would be transmitted via teletype to the Harvey House. As the train approached, the engineer blew the whistle which alerted the staff at the Harvey House to begin preparing the first course.
The servers were called Harvey Girls. Fred Harvey advertised for young ladies "of good character, attractive and intelligent." He paid them nice salaries, free room and board, free train travel and a free ticket back home when their contract was up. The Harvey Girls were dressed in crisp black and white uniforms.
Travelers could sit down, enjoy their meals and be finished before the train had to leave.
The Santa Fe Railroad added dining cars in the early 1900's. Fred Harvey won the contract to run them. He would, also, offer tours of the Grand Canyon and other attractions along the way. He opened shops selling local wares such as pottery, rugs and jewelry.
The Depression and World War II led to the decline of hotels along the railroad. The Santa Fe Railroad consolidated services and closed it hotels
You can still see some of the Harvey Houses that are still operated as Bed and Breakfasts or Museums.