[ kaf-i-teer-ee-uh ]
/ ˌkæf ɪˈtɪər i ə /


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.

Nearby words

  1. caetano,
  2. caf,
  3. cafard,
  4. cafe,
  5. cafe au lait,
  6. cafeteria benefit,
  7. cafeteria plan,
  8. cafeteria-style,
  9. cafetiere,
  10. cafetorium

Origin of cafeteria

1830–40, Americanism; < American Spanish cafetería café, equivalent to Spanish cafeter(a) coffeemaker (< French caf(f)etière; café coffee + -ière, feminine of -ier -ier2; t apparently by analogy with words such as bouquetière flower seller, from bases ending in t) + -ía -ia Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for cafeteria

British Dictionary definitions for cafeteria


/ (ˌkæfɪˈtɪərɪə) /


a self-service restaurant

Word Origin for cafeteria

C20: from American Spanish: coffee shop

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for cafeteria



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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper