The Origins of the ‘Dumb Waiter’ Lift

The Tower Lifts team have designed and installed hundreds of ‘Dumb Waiter’ lifts over the years, so we thought we knew pretty much everything about them. But then, a curious customer asked where the name came from and we were flummoxed. We’ve done a bit of research and unearthed a fascinating story of gossip, wealth, murder and bullion.

So, if you’re sitting comfortably…

Protectors of Secrets

Wealthy ladies in the early 18th century adored the opportunity to attend dessert banquets – who wouldn’t?. These sickly feasts offered the opportunity to gorge yourself on cakes whilst gossiping with friends. The craze invited ever more inflammatory tittle-tattle, and this made the servants a liability. They’re summarily banished, for fear of ‘leaks’, and in their place appears the ‘dumb waiter’; a mahogany cake-stand on casters promising total discretion.

Serving the Wealthy, Securing the Wealth

By the 19th century, the portable ‘dumb waiter’ had become an early service lift. For the rich and wealthy, the mechanical dumb waiter offered a speedy service between the kitchen and the dining room which ensured a hot dinner. The Bank of England recognised the potential of this discrete model of service, and had a ‘bullion lift’ installed to deliver gold bars from the famous vaults.


If you’d like to know more about installing a dumb waiter in your home or business premises, call us today on 01525 601099 and we’ll talk you through the installation process.


Pubs, Pies and Puddings

The food theme is a constant with the ‘dumb waiter’ lift. Their commercial outing arrived as the lift acquired an electric motor in the 1920s. It soon became a novelty and an attraction for fashionable pubs and restaurants. The speed of delivery was, of course, welcomed by patrons, but even more attractive was the partitioning of kitchen and dining room. At last the noises and smells of the kitchen could be banished, and diners could enjoy hot food in peace!

A West End Murder Mystery

Two men sit in a basement reading newspapers. We listen in on their conversation, and suspect they may be planning a murder. Suddenly there’s a rumble and the ‘dumb waiter’ clanks into action. They receive a food order from the restaurant above. But isn’t it an empty building? The dumb waiter clanks again, the written demands are more insistent. So who’s upstairs, and what do they want?

Harold Pinter’s play, The Dumb Waiter opened in the West End, London in 1957. It’s now a theatre classic, and continues to be performed to this day.

Name Please?

Rather like Pinter’s play, the dumb waiter lift runs and runs. Over the past few years there have been concerns that the name could be considered derogatory. So could ‘serving tray’ and ‘microlift’ replace the original? It seems there’s little appetite for new name. People like the oddity of it, and once you know where it comes from you know it’s not dodgy.

The 21st Century Dumb Waiter

We work with Dumb Waiters pretty much all the time. We’ve installed them in restaurants, shoe shops, sports retailers, department stores and hotels. We’re currently seeing a trend for dumb waiters in the home (funny how history goes round in circles!). Now, though, it’s not just the wealthy that can afford them. All kinds of household are enjoying the convenience they offer, and finding new ways to use them all the time.


Tower Lifts carry out design and installation on a varied range of lifts throughout the UK including:

Domestic Lifts Food Lifts Bespoke Platform Lifts Service Lifts Platform Lifts Goods Lifts Scenic LiftsHeavy Duty / Car LiftsPassenger LiftsDumbwaiter LiftsMRL Lifts Fire liftsResidential Lifts low-Headroom Lifts