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The origins of a 'Dumb Waiter' or 'Dumbwaiter'

15 Aug 2008

However you write it, the term ‘dumbwaiter’ is a persistent one.


At Stannah we call our product the Microlift and describe it as a ‘service’ lift, avoiding the term dumbwaiter as it sounds rather derogatory in these ‘pc’ days. We have even received complaints from time to time about the terminology.


The origins of the term dumb waiter are simply that the product was first used in large houses that had their kitchens (and household staff) in the basements and the useful lift to the upstairs dining room was a way of having your own silent waiter, not seen and not heard.


In 1957 Harold Pinter used the terminology by writing the famous play ‘The Dumb Waiter’, which has subsequently been performed all over the world. Not surprisingly the action all takes place in a dingy basement kitchen with the dumb waiter centre-stage. The lift is a simile for a hierarchy, but this time an invisible boss over two hit men. The play celebrated it’s 50th anniversary in 2007 with a production in London so the term dumbwaiter hit all the headlines and in all the reviews critics seemed unanimous in their impression that dumbwaiter lifts were quaint, quirky inventions from a bygone era.


‘For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a 'dumb waiter' you'll need a little explanation. A 'dumb waiter' (or 'dumbwaiter') is a small elevator used to bring food up to a restaurant from kitchens below, and to take dirty dishes back down from the dining room. Once an essential artefact in almost every café and restaurant, they don't seem to be in quite the same evidence in the modern, chic and rather clinical eating establishments we have today. Often, dumb waiters were accompanied by a speaking tube next to them, which enabled waiters to talk to chefs in the kitchens. That bit of background over, we can proceed to the plot.’

Peter Brown at the Trafalgar Studios One 9th Feb 2007



In fact, dumbwaiters are alive and well and in most modern, chic bars, restaurants, clubs and pubs – still acting as a silent and mostly unseen ‘waiter’ , a workhorse that is essential to catering businesses arranged on more than one floor. Of course, today’s models are electrically driven, highly controlled lifts supplied in their own structure and attractive enough to be an interior design feature.


The Microlift recently celebrated it’s 60th anniversary and is the world’s favourite service lift with over 60,000 installations!



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