Exactly What Is the “Blue Plate Special”?

Diners are known for two things: having literally anything you want on their menu and offering a “blue plate special.” So, what makes a pile of diner food blue-plate worthy? The origins of the phrase date back to 1892, when diner owner Fred Harvey was serving up quick and cheap meals to railroad travelers at his Harvey House chain. Harvey’s “blue plate” was a disposable plate that had divided sections, and pretty much anything piled on it was a “blue plate special.” Harvey’s was known for their quality, cleanliness, and convenience at a time when most roadside eateries and railroad stops were anything but. Restaurant owners along travel routes knew travelers were just passing through, so they weren’t too concerned about food quality, or even the cleanliness of their establishment. Today’s diners don’t necessarily serve specials on blue plates, but they continue to use the phrase because it suggests to customers that they’re getting a deal. The only drawback? Blue plate specials aren’t typically customizable.