Setting Thesaurus Entry: Cafeteria


Long tables, uncomfortable chairs, trash cans, line ups, styrofoam or colored plastic trays, banners, posters, ads, lunch staff, cash register, paper plates, plastic cutlery, menu board, stainless steel, windows, double doors, students (sitting, lounging, grouping into cliques, good-natured pushing &shoving, goofing off, reading), water bottles, pop/juice/milk containers, condiment dispensers, spills/stepped on french fries on the floor, napkins, soup tureens, hot plates, paper cartons (for fries, corn dogs, hot dogs, etc), adults in aprons & hairnets, bowls, ladles, steam coming off food, bag lunches, scrunched-up Saran wrap balls on the floor, crumbs, ketchup/gravy spills on the tables, dirty trays stacked up, pop machines, mushy food, scratched sneeze guards, heat lamps, coolers, bright lighting, crumbs on seats, forgotten magazines and newspapers left on tables, trays and garbage left on tables


Laughter, talking, squealing, shouting, trays slamming down on a table, chairs scraping the floor, chewing, the hiss of a pop can opening, the ding of the cash register, dishes clattering/banging/clanging in the kitchen, food being slopped onto plates, the side of a tray along the counter, the clink of change, the thunk of uneaten food being dumped in the trash, doors banging open/shut, glass side doors opening on coolers, the fridge opening/closing, the whirr of a microwave heating up burritos or popcorn, chip bags being torn open, the crinkle of packaging, shoes squeaking against the floor


Menu items of the day (hot dogs, chili, chicken fingers & fries, corn dogs, burritos, tacos, hamburgers, pizza, etc), grease, pop, sweet ketchup, astringent mustard, burnt smells from spillovers or over-cooked food, butter, spices (chili powder, cinnamon, garlic, etc), onions, bad breath, mingling bodies, perfume, cologne, body spray, hair spray


Whatever's being served that day (soups, salads, hot dogs, burritos, corn dogs, fries, hamburgers, pizza, stews, chili, chicken strips, tacos, subs, bagels, muffins, chips, cookies, candy bars, veggies and dip, salads, wraps) squished sandwiches from home, fruit (banana, apple, orange & grapes the most common), leftovers, cut up veggies, pasta salad, coffee, tea


Hard plastic trays, crinkly wrappers, bendy silverware, cardboard milk cartons, cold perspiring drinks, hot food, greasy fries, slick floor, swivel seats, hard benches, sticky tabletop, press of people crowding into lines and sitting on benches, warmth on hands from heat lamps as you choose food, rough paper napkins, cold metal salad bar utensils, balling up a wrapper and tossing it in the trash, pushing, bumping, shoulders rubbing, reaching to snatch something off a friend's tray, guiding a straw to mouth with a fingertip, shaking a pop can to see if any thing's left, steam against the face as you blow on something hot, ketchup blob on the cheek, wiping with a napkin, squeezing fruit to see if it's ripe, poking a nail into the top of a banana to peel it, feeling someone hook your ankle to trip you, accidentally brushing some one's feet beneath the table, elbows hitting your side as you try to eat all bunched together on a bench, dusting crumbs off a seat, shirt or lap, licking lips, licking a blot of mayo off a finger, tugging a bag of chips open, accidentally burning the tongue on hot food or drinks, licking salt from the lips or fingers, flicking an unwanted topping off food (a slice of tomato, pickles, onions, etc), rooting around in a paper bag lunch, the dry feel of paper, dropping a handful of change back into a pocket

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

I stood in the cafeteria doorway, eyes darting from one line to the next. The drool-worthy smell of greasy pizza wafted from the entryway that everyone was jammed into. Stick figures lined both sides of the salad bar. Nothing but the rustle of plastic sounded from the right-hand line: Twinkies wrappers, chips, and Twix bars. I glanced at my watch and growled. If they were going to give us so many choices, we should get more than 25 minutes for lunch.

Example 2:

I pushed through the crowd, ignoring the squeak of my sneakers on the linoleum. Was she there? A plastic tray jabbed into my back, followed by a squish and a muttered Sorry. I craned my neck toward her table, nose wrinkling against the frighteningly-close stink of mushy green beans. Was she--ahhhh! I sank to a nearby bench and unwrapped my hamburger, watching her talk to her friends and flip her hair. This was the best part of my day.

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

Today's special: Hamburger Surprise. It's like a veggie burger, only without the veggies or the burger.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

The beautiful people were in one corner, the smart ones in another. The artsy kids sat off to the side, as if to choose a corner would define them too narrowly. The rejects were scattered throughout in ones and twos, without even the cohesiveness to form a group. The high school cafeteria: a microcosm of real life.


Nora MacFarlane said...

I'm flabbergasted each time I visit your blog. Where do you get all of your ideas? Love it!! ... and I use it often.


Robyn said...

Great stuff! I always try to write using my senses. Loved reading your ideas!! I'll remember Cafeteria every time I write! Thanks, your newest blog bud, Robyn
Are you momzilla??:)

Donna said...

Kids get plastic trays? We had styrofoam. I guess they didn't trust us enough and wanted to kill the planet!

Becca said...

So glad this is helping everyone!

Nora, we get ideas from our own writing--thinking of places we're written about that may be common to ya/children's writers

Thanks for the plug, Robyn. Yes, Angela is Momzilla and I am Becca (the quiet, lazy CC moderator) ;)

Donna, that's a good point. I was thinking of when I was a kid, but I bet a lot of places do use styrofoam. I'll have to change that.

GutsyWriter said...

The cafeteria would probably be different in a French school where they serve a three course meal. Just heard that on NPR.


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