A cafeteria is a type of food service location in which there is little or no waiting staff table service, whether a restaurant or within an institution such as a large office building; a school dining location is also referred to as a dining hall or canteen. Cafeterias are different from coffeehouses, although that is the Spanish meaning of the English word.
Instead of table service, there are food-serving counters/stalls, either in a line or allowing arbitrary walking paths. Customers take the food they require as they walk along, placing it on a tray, or being served individual portions. In addition, there are often stations where customers order food and wait while it is prepared, particularly for items which must be served hot and can be quickly prepared. Alternatively, the patron is given a number and the item is brought to their table. For some food items and drinks, customers collect an empty container, pay at the check-out, and fill the container after the check-out. Free second servings are often allowed under this system.
Customers are either charged a flat rate for admission or pay at the check-out for each item. Some self-service cafeterias charge by the weight of items on a patron's plate. In universities and colleges, some students pay for three meals a day by making payments each semester.
As cafeterias require few employees, they are often found within a larger institution, catering to the clientele of that institution. Cafeterias are common and popular Union-wide, especially at schools, colleges, residence halls, hospitals, museums, military bases, and office buildings.