- a restaurant in which patrons wait on themselves, carrying their food to tables from counters where it is displayed and served.
- a lunchroom or dining hall, as in a factory, office, or school, where food is served from counters or dispensed from vending machines or where food brought from home may be eaten.
- a self-service restaurant
1839, American English, from Mexican Spanish cafeteria “coffee store,” from café “coffee” (see coffee) + Spanish -tería “place where something is done” (usually business). The ending came to be understood popularly as meaning “help-yourself” (as though café + -teria) and was extended to new formation with that sense from c.1923.