I've always loved diners, and I'm not alone. Where else can you go at 3:00 am to relax in a fimiliar, comfortable atmosphere, with a warm piece of pie and a hot cup of coffee? People know their diner inside and out because they've been going there for years. (And they do refer to it as their diner.) People will eat at many restaurants, but they have only one favorite diner-- it's a monogomous relationship.
I've spent countless hours in diners (research), often with close friends, often alone. In that time, my friends and I have developed ideas about what makes one diner better than the next, and about what makes them so special. Here is my description of the perfect diner-- Please let me know what you think.
You must have absolute and complete trust in your diner. As such, it must always be there when you need it.
When you're in the mood for breakfast, nothing else will do. Not only is it always available in the perfect diner, it's always accepted. Ordering breakfast at an "odd" hour can in no way trigger a confused or surprised reaction from the waitress. An omelette at 1:30 am must be considered a perfectly normal order.
It should be periodically filled by the waitress, who does not need to (and should not) ask whether or not you need more. Ideally, she will be so stealthy at this, that you will barely notice her filling it as she walks by. Water refills are also important, though generally not as important as coffee.
The waitress is the most important aspect of a good diner. She should be a weathered female at least 35-40 years of age. Attractiveness is not necessarily a plus, and in fact may distract from the true point of the diner. She should preferably be named Mabel or Flo, or similar name not found anywhere else in society.
Diners should be a home away from home. As such, the waitress should have a very motherly nature. The perfect waitress remembers her regular customers ("Haven't seen you in a while"), knows their regular orders ("The usual today?"), and takes some interest in their lives ("How's things at work?") This makes customers feel most at home.
She is intimately familiar with her diner, giving the impression that she's been there as long as the diner has. She knows the menu by heart, she's memorized all the prices, and she knows the daily specials. She can effortlessly add up the bill, including the tax, without a calculator.
When to bring the check? Of primary concern is to provide speed of service without ever rushing the customer. This is mainly dependent on the waitress's intuition. She should try her best to sense when the customer is finished. For example, if eye contact is made after the meal is finished, she can ask, "Can I get you anything" (pronounced as one word). If the customer declines, she should then bring the check, but it must be prefaced with a certain "whenever you're ready" so that there is no hint of rushing.
Diners should have a wide selection of hearty meals, including burgers, sandwiches, soups, and breakfast items. Substitutions should always be allowed, even if it means a small adjustment in price. The (magic) word "deluxe" can be added to nearly every lunch/dinner item: It is a near-universal code which means the addition of side items, such as fries, cole slaw, or pickles to the meal. It will often give a larger, more oval shaped plate.
Breakfast should be printed on the back page of the menu for easy access. Any substantial breakfast order (including omelettes, pancakes, etc) should include a hearty serving of home fries as a standard, which can, of course, be substituted.
Milk shakes must be freshly made with real ice cream using a circa 1950's style stainless steel mixer. Vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry should be standard flavors, with others a plus. These should be served in a tall, curved glass along with the stainless steel "overflow" container.
There are two basic syles of diners: 1950's and 1970's. While similar in most aspects, they have some subtle differences: The atmosphere of 50's diner feels bright and white, while 70's diners are darker and browner. The 50's diner relies heavily on chrome and stainless steel accents, while it's counterpart uses more mirrors. Finally, the 50's diner uses smooth clear glasses. 70's diners often use brown glasses, with a textured outer surface. A general background russle of dishes, plates, conversations, footsteps adds to the overall atmosphere of both types. The noise should be reasonably consistent, coming from nowhere in particular.
Counter seating, complete with 50's style rotary stools, is necessary. Four person booths are also a must for those late night meals with a group of friends. Tables are also common, but not necessary.
The register must be located near the main entrance. Gum, mints, etc, must be available for purchase, with some sort of free mint tray being preferable. A toothpick dispenser is standard. The nearby wall often features signed dollar bills from early/famous customers. The cashier should ask "how was everything today?" or similar when taking the money. Finally, a "Have a great day" is needed before you exit your diner paradise.