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The Waiters’ Cup Code

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In the late 1800s, waitresses at the Harvey House chain of restaurants at railroad stops across the American West employed a cup code. One server would ask customers about their preferred beverages, then briskly arrange their cups on the table according to their preferences. A cup placed upside down, for example, meant the customer wanted hot tea. A second server would arrive and, without even asking, provided each customer the correct beverage. This restaurant code helped ensure quick, efficient service during rail passengers’ brief stops for food. Judy Garland played one of those restaurant workers in the 1946 movie The Harvey Girls. This is part of a complete episode.

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