Comebacks we'd like to see: #2 -- The in-store lunch counter

This post is part of our series ranking the top 25 bygone products and trends we'd like to see return.

Growing up in the Connecticut suburbs in the 1970s, a meal out at a restaurant meant one thing: A quick stop at a lunch counter while doing errands downtown with my mom (hear that? Downtown).

We didn't have Applebee's or Olive Garden. I don't think there was such a thing as a "children's menu" and I'm not sure McDonald's had even come up with the Happy Meal concept. Even if such things existed, my parents, who remain fans of the healthful home-cooked meal, would not have been early adopters, I'm sure.

But while shopping at Woolworth's or the family-run drug store in our town, my sister and I might just get cranky and whiny enough to convince my mother to buy us lunch or an afternoon snack at the store. Yes, right there, at the in-store lunch counter.

There remains nothing quite like the thrill of the spontaneous grilled cheese or ice cream break at a lunch counter. Right up there with the adults on the swiveling stools, we'd place our own orders, watch the food prepared, joke with the friendly waitresses and even interact with colorful strangers sitting right next to us. It seemed anything could happen.

Woolworth's was the best. The old five-and-dime chain had a gimmick that was just about the most fun my eight-year-old self could imagine: You'd order the banana split and the waitress would pop a balloon overhead that contained a price tag. If you were lucky, you could pay just a penny for your dessert.

To be sure, you can still eat at the counter of many a traditional diner or family restaurant. My kids now are quite thrilled if I suggest we stop for an ice cream or hot chocolate at our local diner and we sit at the counter amidst all the din and clatter of a busy establishment.

However, I would argue, it's not quite as spontaneous and fun as the experience of eating at an in-store lunch counter -- especially when it took popping a balloon to find out the price of your dessert.

What long lost dining experiences do you miss?

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