By Jayden Thomas, Western Kentucky University

It's 2 a.m. and the strong scent of black coffee wafts around the open area as muffled chatter fills the room. Typically, coffee is something I would drink when I first wake up, but I have an impending deadline so I gladly welcome the energy boost. Times like these are a source of comfort for me and many other college students across the United States. When life gets out of control, the 24-hour diner becomes a haven for cheap food and productivity.

A late-night visit to a classic diner is a staple in the American college experience. Diners are not fancy restaurants with extravagant food or menu choices, but that’s part of the appeal. They provide simple, affordable food in an environment that’s easy to relax in. Often small in size, diners typically consist of one open room with only a bar separating the kitchen from the rest of the space. The layout not only allows the diners to see their food being cooked, but it also allows for constant interaction between the staff and the customers.

The staff at my favorite diners are welcoming and always open to having a conversation to learn about the various individuals who wander into their workplace at all hours of the day. They radiate a sense of familiarity, almost like a parent; you know you are in good hands. If you go there regularly, the staff can get to know you and learn your preferences, making your experience more personal. Whenever I go in, I’m greeted with “Hi how are ya bud, will you have your usual?” My usual, incidentally, is black coffee and a three-egg omelet.

A chocolate chip waffle covered in syrup.

A chocolate chip waffle covered in syrup.

The aesthetic of a classic American diner is distinctive. Buildings typically have a metallic exterior with a big window so you can see inside and are topped with a big neon sign. This style of architecture hails from the mid-20th century and contributes to the unique experience that diners provide.

Most diners are equipped with a jukebox, an old-school machine that plays music whenever money is inserted. After I’ve ordered, I will typically go to the jukebox and play a few songs that add to the atmosphere. I usually go for a mix of oldies from the 60s, or indie pop from the 2000s. The jukebox provides a sense of community because it allows everyone in the diner an opportunity to share new, or old, music with one another.

My friend Claire and I often visit diners for a much-needed study break. With their cheap prices, friendly staff, and breakfast food anytime you want, they’re the perfect place for college students. We often bring schoolwork with us because diners tend to awaken our creativity. Even as I write this, I’m at a diner enjoying the unlimited coffee and eating an omelet with toast. It's pure bliss.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Of course, we don’t always come here just to study. Sometimes we spend hours just talking and enjoying each other's company. Whenever we’re feeling bogged down, we go to a diner, where we can laugh for hours, meet new people, and create memories that will last a lifetime. We always leave feeling better.

Diners are found throughout the United States and are extremely convenient. Whether you go there at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m., you can expect a level of casual comfort that is unparalleled. If you ever find yourself in America, I hope you get to experience this often-overlooked piece of our culture.

Banner image: Even at midnight, diners are full of life.