Writing Activity: Scene In A Restaurant, Café or Eatery

In this activity you will practice creative writing skills by writing a fictional scene which takes place in some kind of eating establishment: a restaurant, café, milk bar, fast food joint, Saturday morning market, street vendor… Any sort of eatery will do.

But first, a pop culture quiz. How many of these cafes, diners and eateries do you recognise from the screen? Some are easy, some pretty hard. (Answers in the file names, click on the gallery.)

Your first task is to simply imagine a scene. Perhaps the characters and eatery are people from real life. Perhaps this is a work of fan fiction. Cafe and restaurant scenes are so popular with readers that there’s an entire subcategory of fan fiction dedicated to them:

The Coffee Shop AU is an alternate universe fanfiction trope that became popular in LiveJournal fandoms, then migrated with fans to other platforms.

The trope was originally known as Barista AU and is closely-related to the Bakery AU.

In most cases, one half of the main pairing is the barista and the other is or becomes their favorite customer; in some stories the whole cast works at a coffee shop.

Fanlore Wiki

Perhaps this place, these characters are all yours.

In any case, I recommend limiting the cast to two (main) characters at the table/in dialogue with each other, though other characters will likely populate the story, serving the food, sitting at nearby tables and so on.


  • What kind of eatery is this? (High end, fast-food, market vendor?)
  • Is it an interior or exterior scene? (Indoors or outdoors?)
  • Night or day? Which meal/snack are they eating?
  • What’s the lighting like?
  • Is this the sort of place you need to book in advance? Is it popular or almost out of business? Perhaps it has a cult-patronage, known by only a few?
  • Perhaps there are two parts to this place: The Potemkin restaurant, and another part, perhaps behind a door or down a trapdoor/fantasy portal?
  • If indoors, how high is the ceiling? What can they see out the window? Are they upstairs or downstairs? In a mall or food court?
  • If outdoors, what is the view from here? Are they on a roof/mountain or other high place? Underground? At street level? What is the weather like?
  • Which era is this story set?
  • Is this in the real world? If so, which country? Which town?
  • Rural, suburban or city?
  • Even if this is a fantasy setting some of those questions still apply. Plus: How is this world different from our real world?
  • What year is it set, approximately? (Historical, contemporary, futuristic?)
  • What’s the lighting like?
  • Is this a noisy place? Is the noise pleasant/calming/grating? Can patrons hear anything coming from the kitchen/outside? Is music playing?
  • What does the restaurant smell like? (Probably food, but be specific. Perhaps it smells of something unlikely, e.g. the overwhelming perfume of a patron at the next table; pungent fumes coming from under the kitchen door…)
A bustling but cosy inn by Anton Franciscus Pieck (19 April 1895 – 24 November 1987)
  • How old are the main characters?
  • What are their genders?
  • Have these characters met before? How?
  • Do they like each other? If not, why not? Are they attracted to/repelled by each other in any way? (Both at once?)
  • Aside from eating and drinking, what is the reason for the visit to an eatery How do their goals conflict?
  • Did they arrive together?
  • How did each of them arrive? (On foot, by horse and carriage, by Mercedes Benz?)
  • Who arrived first? Were they both punctual?
  • Does one character like the food at this place more than the other person?
  • What are they wearing?
  • What is their wealth? (Does one have more resources?)
  • What are their basic political leanings? (Conservative, liberal, don’t care?)
  • Might the waitstaff/vendor play a role in this story? How might they conflict? (A trickster as waitstaff might be interesting.)
  • Is anyone supernatural? Is this obvious or masked?
  • Do any identities become unmasked over the course of this scene?
  • Is anyone suspicious sitting/lurking nearby?
  • Can characters hear any conversation at nearby tables?
  • a first date
  • stood up for a date
  • a break-up
  • a confrontation
  • a thank-you
  • a celebration
  • reuniting after a long time apart
  • planning a crime
  • seeking refuge after committing a crime
  • looking for another individual who is known to frequent this place
  • an informal job interview
  • scouting for someone to do a task, join a cult, do a particular job
  • one person persuading the other to keep quiet after they’ve been found out in some wrong-doing

I’ve got some scenarios for you, via Twitter. (Remember when people who never used Twitter believed that Twitter was only ever good for sharing “what you had for lunch”?) Well, microblogging platforms are pretty good for sharing minor events that happen in cafes:

just saw a cat try to walk into a cafe. “you can’t come in here!” one of the waitstaff said. “we can’t keep having this conversation!”


In a café, a complete stranger just rushed over and kissed me on the cheek. Him: My God! How are you? Me (puzzled, wracking my brain): Aah … are you …. Matt? Him: No, I’m Steve. Aren’t you Linda? Me: No, I’m not Linda. Him: Oh. Ok. Ha ha. (Awkward silence falls over café).

@Juanita_Phillip (TV news presenter at ABC, with a “vaguely familiar face”.)

I helped an old man with his new mobile phone in a cafe I use. Since then we regularly bump into each other and share news and time.


bruh it’s raining down hard again… it’s been like this for two months in Colorado. It’s never been like this as long as I’ve been alive… my neighborhood flooded this week and as we speak, I’m stranded in a cafe because it’s hailing and thunder storming


I remember I tried getting a mocha in a cafe at JFK and they told they’ve never heard of that in their life. That was my last straw


My friend just said, “You’ve gone full millennial sitting and working in a café.” Yes, yes I have. It’s the best way to sit and plod through the to-do list on a Saturday


im in a cafe sitting alone in stress bcs of my exam papers and not dressed decently bcs i cant really think on what to wear and theres a couple sits beside me doing their lovey dovey while here i am dating a whole lot journals and books anD MY FREAKING PAPERS on a sat night


theres a straight couple sitting right across my table in a cafe im in and theyre taking photobooth pics on the girl’s laptop while the guy keeps looking at her as if hes just so in love with her


“she works in a cafe” because her millionaire privileged parents subsidise her living.


I was reading this in a cafe and the waitress came up to serve my coffee just as I scrolled down to have my whole screen filled with “he killed her”, so now I am trying to act as normal as possible.


A beautiful woman once stopped me in a cafe in Amsterdam (Netherlands) to tell me that I had the most intense and riveting steel blue eyes she had ever seen. Unfortunately, she said it in front of my girlfriend! Sounds lame, but I have carried that moment for almost 30 years.


love working in a cafe w all healthy and organic food but still having coffee and lays bbq chips for lunch.. nothing beats this


I always clear my own table in a cafe. It’s just the right way to be. But I see so much takeout litter along the lanes near our village that I don’t think a lot of people care at all what they do and who has to clean up their mess.


What are the most common microaggressions you face as a disabled person?

When you’re in a Cafe and they say our selection is written on the Board after clocking that you’re holding a Cane. That and oh it’s over there.


Not strictly a mondegreen, buy many years ago I overheard a customer in a cafe ask for a “quicky” She wanted a quiche


Girls sitting next to me in a cafe are discussing their shock at scorpions’ existence, so I went back to find & feel justified about this 2020 tweet of mine:

I might as well admit to the internet that until age 27, I thought scorpions were mythological.


sometimes the rim of the china cups are too thick and it affects the taste of the coffee so I have been known to get my coffee in a takeaway cup if I find the china in a cafe dodgy. Equally the quality of the takeaway cups needs to be taken into consideration.


Pisses me off when you have chips in a cafe and they cut the bread in a triangle. Not cut at all is the best way so it can be folded over, same with Sausages. Straight across the middle for sandwiches, but the other way.


my son delights in having his insulin injection in a cafe so that people think he is on heroin or something


always feel very mysterious and sexy when i take a pill in a cafe, even when it’s an antihistamine people peering at me like, what’s he taking? ecstasy? cyanide? either way good for him


Really hard to sit in a cafe next to a Daily Mail reader this morning and not shout ‘Have you no self-respect?’


14-year-old reading the Daily Star in a cafe with me: “Mum, what the hell is this?”


I’m sitting in a window seat in a cafe, facing directly onto the outside seating area. Not one but *two* couples have sat in front of me to have highly emotional conversations – at least one person crying – and I’m having to pretend like I can’t see them. All a bit awks.


In a Cafe Nero, the girl behind the counter told us that all the different coffees are made from the same basic coffee-ish syrup stuff, which they use less or more of depending on what the customer has chosen.


A wee old man in a cafe pointed to my Grá tattoo and went ‘I think that’s the nicest tattoo I’ve ever seen, it’s lovely’ and pointed it out to everyone and went ‘isn’t that just lovely’


NO a bird shlt on my head and I didn’t realise and I’m just sat in a cafe and the waitress told me


i’m in a cafe trying to study and at the table next to me there’s a group of writers (?) who are working on a drama (sounds like) and the main character name’s seems to be Yohan cause they keep repeating it


A nurse I worked with said her husband was in a diner and an ‘undercover guy’ at another table said [XYZ]. Worst undercover guy ever!


Let’s make paper napkin hats for each other while sitting in a diner on a rainy afternoon


Maybe we can be extras in a diner eating pancakes


Eavesdropping on a breakup in a diner like a real New Yorker


I’m at a diner that serves “New York potatoes” in New York, it’s just potatoes hurr hurrr


Something about eating fried food basically on cake at 3 am in the morning in a diner hits different


A lady in a diner just told me she loves me on tik tok. My ego is reaching insufferable levels


Sweet little things i appreciate: After knowing you I sat longer in a diner, taking a few minutes to taste little details of flavor of the food that was served in front of me; whether it was the texture of rice, the broth, the seasonings, et cetera.


A plate clinks constantly in a diner. The sound is soothing and reassuring, like a friend you know you can count on. It’s a reminder that no matter how bad things might seem, someone is taking care of things. It’s a comforting sound, one that makes you feel at home.


Never goes to church but says a prayer in a diner waiting on a cheeseburger


My dad thought that this one lady working at a diner would remember us even though the last time we were there was At least 8 years ago


We’re at a diner, and this adorable old couple put “Oh, Donna” on the jukebox, and they’re dancing to it right now. My heart.


Country fried steak and eggs are my go to at a diner


Currently eating breakfast at a diner and my view is a kid getting arrested for riding a motorized scooter.


I stopped at a diner in Maryland when I was over the road trucking. Food was great, everything had crab in it!


My parents drove through New Jersey once, and they stopped at a diner. Just from that, my mom’s voice went from Soprano to Basso. She even lost her French accent, we thought she was Jimmy Hoffa


I once heard someone at a diner ask for a cup of milk with a cup of ice and non buttered toast like what


My brother in law once ordered at a diner a bacon cheeseburger with grilled cheeses as the buns.


at a diner with buster and this guy in the booth behind me is talking about shutter island to his date and he’s like “and that other guy is in it” and i said nonchalantly to buster “mark ruffalo” and then i hear the guy behind me say it. you’re welcome


Dude at Starbucks just left the crowded store and went “Bye everyone,” and every single person in that store said goodbye I literally just met the main character


Food may be a major part of the scene, or else not play much part at all. You might use food to illuminate character, or the food ‘might be a character in its own right’. Or it may be symbolic.

  • What do the characters order?
  • Do they like what comes out?
  • Does it look appetizing or disgusting?
  • Does it taste how it looks?
  • Does one character have food envy?
  • Is there anything wrong with the food?
  • Do they order drinks? Alcoholic?
  • Do the characters have strong preferences when it comes to food and drink?
  • How do the characters eat the food? With trepidation? With gusto?
  • Does each character have a similar etiquette background, or are their table manners quite different?
  • Can you exaggerate the food in some way? Make it super big, super small or otherwise memorable?

Here’s a scene set in a diner. (Diners were originally inspired by train dining cars. Some of the oldest ones were actually just old dining cars they put on the street.)

It was a typical November day: gray, cold with a bite. We sat in the window of a cute diner-style parlor, eating offensively large chocolate sundaes. It was my father’s favorite place in Gyeryong. He said it reminded him of America-the good parts of it anyway-drive-ins, milkshakes, roller-girls.

I couldn’t help but smile and be happy. Despite my age, he still delighted in theatrical gestures of appreciation and celebration. It was his way: an enormous inflatable bouncy castle for my elementary school graduation party, a platinum bracelet for my sixteenth birthday, a new Mercedes for my mother’s fortieth. He cared a great deal about appearances, was proud he could give those gifts.

He sat across from me, jaw square, dark brown eyes betraying nothing. My mother always joked that he should play poker for a living. “With that face,” she’d say, “we’d be rich by now.”

from When We Fell Apart, a novel by Soon Wiley

After their room, the four spent the most time together in the dining hall, so called as though anyone could mistake its vaulted ceilings, tree-length tables, and brassy chandeliers for anything so pedestrian as a cafeteria. Margaret managed, though. Despite being the one most dazzled by the space, she couldn’t call it anything other than the cafeteria. When they entered the hall for their first dinner together, she stopped, the flow of new freshmen tripped up first over the obstruction caused by the four, and then by the scattered double takes at Margaret, whose face and body her own suitemates were also still stealing glances at, wondering why they hadn’t been warned. Margaret had cheekbones that sliced each one of them open in turn: Ji Sun by their architecture; Alice by how smooth and bright they were, scar-free; and Lainey by the desire to touch them, compare their structure to her own, which she’d always considered the best thing about her face.

“Wow, we get to eat in here.” Margaret looked around, oblivious to, or unmoved by, the people who turned to look at her-her long, gauzy white skirt and her heart-shaped face made her look like some kind of moon child princess bride, like she trailed glitter, didn’t belong on this planet, let alone in a dining hall, even one with chandeliers.

“Didn’t you see it when you visited?” Alice asked, ushering Margaret by the arm toward the tray stand.

“Oh, I didn’t visit,” Margaret said, choosing a fork as though it might play a song. “I just got in off the waitlist.”

“Oh,” Lainey said, and nodded, tried to think of how best to react. She couldn’t imagine admitting this. She’d been wait-listed at Trinity College and even after being offered acceptance, the sting had manifested as lingering resentment toward all things even nominally Irish.

“Wow,” Margaret said again when they’d finished piling their trays and stood, looking for a place to sit. “Just . . . wow!” She held her tray with one arm and used the other to gesture around the room, as though her suitemates couldn’t see it. Her attitude was infectious. Ji Sun, the least impressed by institutional spaces, especially American ones that prided themselves on their “heritage,” did feel now like the room was polished gold, sun dust from the fading day washing the students in honeyed light, glinty little sparks bouncing off the lowest glass facets in the light fixtures.

“Yeah, hey, wow,” Ji Sun said, teasing but warm. They settled at a round six-top that they could tell in their bones would be their table, even as they shared it on this first night with two other freshmen, both of whom seemed more in awe of this foursome, somehow already solidified, than of their surroundings.

the opening to The Other’s Gold, a 2020 novel by Elizabeth Ames

Curtis McCoy was early for his ten o’clock meeting so he carried his coffee to a table by the window, where he could feel the watery April sun. It was a Saturday, Joe Coffee was crowded, and Brooklyn Heights was alive, women in running tights pushing strollers along Hicks Street, dog walkers congregating at the benches on Pineapple Street, families dashing to soccer games, swimming lessons, birthday parties down at Jane’s Carousel.

At the next table, a mother sat with her two adult daughters, drinking from blue-and-white paper cups, peering at the same phone.

“Oh, here’s one! This guy’s profile says he likes running, making his own kimchi, and ‘dismantling capitalism.’”

Curtis tried not to listen but couldn’t help himself.

“Darley, he’s twice my age. No. Do you even understand how the app works?”

The name Darley rang a bell, but Curtis couldn’t quite place her. Brooklyn Heights was a small neighborhood, she was probably just someone he’d seen in line ordering sandwiches at Lassen, or someone he’d crossed paths with at the gym on Clark Street.

“Fine, fine. Okay, this guy says, ‘Cis male vegan seeks fellow steward of the Earth. Never eat anything with a face. Except the rich.’” “You can’t date a vegan. The footwear is ghastly!” the mother interrupted. “Give me that phone! Hmm. The whiffy here is terrible.”

“Mom, it’s pronounced ‘wai-fai.’”

Curtis risked a quick peek at the table. The three women were dressed in tennis whites, the mother a blonde with gold earrings and a notable array of rings on her fingers, the daughters both brunette, one lanky with straight hair cut to her shoulders, the other softer, with long wavy hair loosely tied in a knot. Curtis ducked his head back down and broke off a crumbly bite of poppyseed scone.

“‘Bi and nonmonogamous looking for a Commie Mommy to help me smash the patriarchy. Hit me up to go dancing!’ Am I having a stroke?” the older woman murmured. “I don’t understand a word of this.”

Curtis fought back a snicker.

the opening to Pineapple Street, a 2023 novel by Jenny Jackson

If you know any baby boomers who live in regional Australia, they’ve probably taken you to their local pub. (Or if you are a baby boomer who lives in regional Australia…)

This is exactly what they’re like:

Inside the club, the air is cool. There’s a counter, with temporary membership forms and a sign instructing visitors to sign themselves in. Martin complies, tearing off a guest slip. The main room is large, with long windows looking out across the river bend, the trees almost imperceptible in the dusk outside the brightly lit room. There are tables and chairs, but no patrons. Not a soul. The only movement is the lights flashing garishly from poker machines standing beyond a low partition at the far end of the room. A barman is sitting behind the long bar reading a book. He looks up as Martin approaches.

‘G’day there. Get you a beer?’

Scrublands by Chris Hammer 2018


‘A café scene’ can be an entire short story:

  • In “The Reunion” by John Cheever, a father takes his son to a restaurant, treats people badly and the son realises what an unpleasant man his father really is.
  • In “A Dill Pickle” by Katherine Mansfield, a woman reunites with an old beau, perhaps wondering if they can give it another go. But the guy is insufferable.
  • In “The Killers” by Ernest Hemingway (a short story recommended by Stephen King and Dorothy Parker alike), Hemingway takes gangsters and humanises them by placing them in the familiar environment of a lunchroom. “The Killers” is a clear ancestor of stories such as The Sopranos. (We are now accustomed to humanised criminals in storytelling.)


One of the most famous paintings of an eatery must be Nighthawks at the Diner by Edward Hopper.

Nighthawks — Edward Hopper’s most iconic painting.

Hopper was excellent at depicting loneliness.

Edward Hopper Nighthawks detail

And here’s a picture of a nighthawk (bird), in case anyone was wondering:

Bird Biographies A Guide-Book for Beginners by Alice Eliza Ball (1867-1948) Illustrated by Robert Bruce Horsfall (1869-1948) New York Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc., 1923 nighthawk
1952 Saturday Evening Post Magazine Cover


Burger Scholar George Motz has spent decades researching, writing about, cooking, and eating America’s favorite food: Hamburgers. His documentary film, Hamburger America, was recognized by the US National Archives as an integral part of American food history. On this episode, he shares the history of the burger and its variations across the country.

America’s Burgers with George Motz

This week on A Taste of the Past, host Linda Pelaccio is joined in the studio by Andrew F. Smith, author of the book Fast Food: The Good, The Bad and The Hungry. He is also the editor of the Edible Series, a revolutionary new series of books on food and drink which explores the rich history of man’s consumption. Each book provides an outline for one type of food or drink, revealing its history and culture on a global scale. Tune in to hear them discuss the history of the fast food industry, from the streets to the franchises.

Fast Food: The Big, The Bad and The Hungry

Until the mid-19th Century, it was not acceptable–and in some cases not allowed–for women to out and about unescorted. They would not be served even at elite restaurants. But in 1868, a journalist named Jane Cunningham Croly pushed open the doors of restaurants to women with an historic luncheon at Delmonico’s in New York City, and the rest is…history. this luncheon was recreated at the famed Delmonico’s with guest chef/restaurateur Gabrielle Hamilton cooking some classic dishes for an all woman group of diners. Linda gives a first hand report of that event and speaks with those involved.

150th Anniversary of the Feminist Lunch that Broke Boundaries

Americans once sipped coffee and ate pie around communal tables, sharing their struggles and dreams with strangers at Horn & Hardart’s iconic Automat. This week on A Taste of the Past, host Linda Pelaccio is talking the history of the automat with Marianne Hardart, the great-granddaughter of Automat co-founder Frank Hardart; her father, Augustin, was the last of three generations of Hardarts to manage the Automats. But, what exactly is an Automat? Marianne explains it was a ‘fast food’ restaurant where hot foods and drink were served by coin-operated vending machines that were stocked by actual kitchens making items fresh. Talking about all things Automat, after the break, Linda welcomes Lisa Hurwitz, the Director and Producer of The Automat, The Horn & Hardart Documentary Film (check out the Kickstarter campaign here). Adding her thoughts on the topic and sharing why the Automat is an important piece of American culinary history, she relates how more than just entertainment, The Automat is a parable of how we once dined happily together before turning to the isolated and unhappy experience offered by today’s fast food, a bad deal that no amount of advertising can disguise.

Automat: The History, Book & Movie

David Chase Reveals the Philosophical Meaning of The Soprano’s Final Scene (which takes place in a diner) at Open Culture

Header illustration: 1959 Leisurely Lunch Saturday Evening Post art by George Hughes


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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