1952: Behind the scenes at Lyons

'Waitresses in a staff meeting in the art deco dining room, before the restaurant is open'

(c) TopFoto


Before Starbucks, there was Lyons.

In 1952, when these behind-the-scenes photographs were taken, Lyons was the world's largest restaurant company and, seating more than 2,000 people, the Lyons Corner House at Coventry Street was the largest restaurant in the world.

Opening in London's West End in 1909, Lyons Corner Houses were a prominent part of the Lyons empire.  Each one occupied several floors of a building, with a shop on the ground floor selling a variety of cakes, sweets, fruit and items from a delicatessen counter.  The Corner Houses also had hairdressing salons and telephone booths.  A differently themed restaurant existed on each of the four or five floors, each with its own musicians.  

Both the Lyons Corner Houses and the Lyons Tea shops had a signature Art Deco style and the waitresses, known as 'Nippies', had a distinctive uniform and cap.  At its peak, each Lyons Corner House employed 400 staff.

To keep the restaurants supplied, a food production factory in Hammersmith produced pies, bread, and cakes and other items. And to control the logistics of dealing with perishable food items within such a large company, Lyons became the first such company to develop and use computerised systems.

By the 1960s, however, the teashops were being eclipsed by fashionable coffee houses, and were losing money. The last Corner House was closed in 1977.


  'A   waiter ties his bow-tie'   (c)  TopFoto

'A waiter ties his bow-tie'

(c) TopFoto


'Men preparing food'

(c) TopFoto


'Kitchen staff making up plates of food ready for ordering.'

(c) TopFoto


 'A male waiter adjusts his shirt-front'

(c) TopFoto


  'Kitchen staff plating up various salads ready for ordering'   (c)  TopFoto

'Kitchen staff plating up various salads ready for ordering'

(c) TopFoto


'A woman adds cress to salads'

(c) TopFoto


'A pastry chef topping the eclairs with chocolate'

(c) TopFoto


'Waitresses in the staff wash room , getting ready for their shift'

(c) TopFoto


'A waitress struggles to fit all the order on her tray watched by her supervisor'

(c) TopFoto


'A Nippy waitress in the store room of trays and jugs'

(c) TopFoto


'Waitresses stacking serving dishes on trays' 

(c) TopFoto


'The line up for the staff canteen'

(c) TopFoto



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 Text and curation: Amanda Uren



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