Special Reports

How We Got Here: 1940s

Illustration: Wikimedia Commons

The eruption of World War II brought shortages of food, equipment and labor—precisely as demand for meals prepared outside the home soared to 60 million meals per day, triple the prewar level. Some estimates pegged the output at 75 million meals a day after Pearl Harbor, a reflection of how the war effort pulled Americans away from their kitchens.

The Association’s conventions were suspended by order of the federal government, but limited-attendance conferences were convened to focus on rationing and other war-related issues. Rank-and-file operators turned to industry stars such as Vernon Stouffer and J. Willard Marriott for leadership and inspiration.

With peacetime came an intensified focus on execution, the result of escalating competition for newly mobile young families. The industry’s attention turned to sophisticated matters such as kitchen design, waste reduction and how to save labor with more efficient equipment.

Association firsts

The National Restaurant Association produced its first film toward the end of the decade. “America’s Heritage of Hospitality” was intended to draw young people into the business and set an inspirational mission for those who entered it. The flick would also be used to train the foodservice personnel feeding U.S. troops stationed in Europe during the start of the Cold War.

The Association logged another first in 1940 when it elected its first female president: Toledo, Ohio, restaurateur Grace Smith.

The decade in price points


Roast leg of lamb with gravy; fresh vegetables; mashed potatoes; apple, celery and raisin salad 

Childs, 1944




San Carlos Coffee Shop, 1945



Hot fudge sundae

Pig ’n Whistle, 1946 



Pork chops

Beverly Hills Hotel, 1948



Prime ribs of beef, Yorkshire pudding 

Waldorf Astoria, 1949

Source: New York Public Library Labs

1920s | 1930s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s

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