The Harvey House Concept
Frederick Henry Harvey was appalled by the conditions travelers endured in the United States as compared to his home country, England, where there was a long tradition of hospitality on the roads.
So, he developed a restaurant that would provide a respectable, comfortable place for travelers to enjoy their meals, and persuaded the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad line to sponsor his first effort.
The idea caught on rapidly. Within 12 years, the entire route was dotted with “Harvey Houses,” and he commanded an empire.
The railroad sponsored the restaurants in order to attract ticket buyers rather than to produce revenue, so Harvey was able to demand the utmost in cleanliness, elegance, and attentiveness. In fact, he required the restaurants to lose money.
He was a tireless manager who traveled constantly to perform personal inspections, and he expected an effort from his customers, as well as his employees. Even in the Western territories, men had to wear jackets when they ate there.
In 1883, he decided to hire women to serve the food — not because he had feminist sympathies but because he believed this would help to socialize some of the very rough customers who patronized the westernmost outposts.
A “Harvey girl” signed a contract for a year’s work, during which time she promised not to marry. In spite of the fact that they had rather racy reputations, his female staff were strictly supervised, living in special dormitories and abiding by nighttime curfews.
In 1901, Harvey died, but the restaurants were a fixture on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe route until the 1940s, when faster trains and the increasing popularity of cars began to make them obsolete. They closed gradually over the years; by the 1960s, all were gone.