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Drive-Thru to the Rescue

Image of a Restaurant Drive-Thru Entrance SignThe foodservice industry is known to be attentive to their client’s needs, creative in their products and service, and resilient in finding ways to get things done. In the past few weeks, American restaurants have become quite acquainted with one of those, resilience. It is interesting how ideas and technologies both old and new are being utilized to make it work for their clients.

The COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the world has forced all restaurants to close their indoor seating. This order left some restaurants in better positions than others, restaurants with an established drive-thru, had a quick advantage, but other sit-down restaurants had to figure out a way to boost their takeout business. Interestingly, only 20% of restaurants in the country already have an established drive-thru (The Rise…). In today’s circumstances, this seventy-year-old serving system has certainly been looked at through a different lens and there is little doubt of its current benefit.

The History of Drive-Thru Restaurants
The first drive-thru restaurant opened in 1947. The start-of-it-all was Red’s Giant Hamburg in Springfield, Missouri. They unfortunately only lasted until 1984, so the longest standing drive-thru goes to In-N-Out burger (rightly named) in the Los Angeles area (Tuttle). The fame of it being the longest standing drive-thru kind of loses its meaning when one had to wait twenty minutes for two burgers. Many people just wanted to experience this burger stand, so the business was booming and therefore, going slow – even at ten at night.

Then, in 1951, the first drive-thru chain restaurant opened up in San Diego – Jack in the Box (Tuttle). California was really on its game. It had a two-way-speaker box which we 2020ers are all fairly acquainted with at this point. This contraption was so new that “customers had to be warned that a disembodied voice would speak to them” (Drive-Thru). Can you imagine why they had to put that sign up – imagine: a common family of four experiencing the new drive-thru for the first time and freaking about the invisible man standing outside their window asking, of all things, what they wanted for dinner. Technology – crazy how it evolves. The restaurant business has continued improving through technology. Where would we be without the microwave, combi-oven and smart refrigeration to name a few. Nothing can stop us from moving forward and satisfying our clients’ wants.

Technology is just what started this drive-thru craze. America was entering its age of new cars, stylish cars, and fast cars. In the Fifties, drive-thrus combined two of America’s favorite things, cars, and fast food.

Interestingly McDonald’s did not have a drive-thru until 1975. The first one opened in Sierra Vista, Arizona, right next to Fort Huachuca (United States Army installation). Interesting how it took the king of fast food and drive-thru so long to create one. Years ago, a McDonald’s in Naples, Florida asked their fellow neighbors to get in line at a specific time on a specific day to break the world record for the greatest number of cars in a drive-thru in one hour. Sadly, they did not break the record. The current record is held by a McDonald’s in Colorado Springs, Colorado with 349 cars (Facebook). Going back to Huachuca, the reason behind creating a drive-thru there was not necessarily to follow the fad of the rest of fast-food industries across the country. Back in the day, men and women in military fatigues were not allowed to leave their cars. To help out the soldiers at Huachuca, McDonald’s started the drive-thru. Contrary to the 50s, drivers nowadays are not too worried about the speed their food comes out at but more so the accuracy of their order. For example, Chick-Fil-A has the longest drive-thru wait time but comes out on top in terms of order accuracy (The Rise…). With the wide variety of food options that have appeared on the menu since the 1950s, people would rather take their time to look over the menu and experience a stress-free drive-thru.

Enjoy a Drive-Thru Meal During Your Quarantine
Along with the menu choices expanded, so has our technology (we are no longer just looking at a two-way-speaker box). Many menu boards are digitalized (The Rise…). This allows the restaurant to change its options depending on the time of day, and even the weather. Some boards are so advanced, they will feature an item in the center of the screen that will be attractive to the customer considering the weather outside. For example, if it is a hot, sunny day, the menu may have an ice cream cone or iced coffee right in the center of the screen. Check for that next time you are at McDonald’s. There is talk that a license plate reading camera will be in communication with the menu board. The technology behind the menu board will be able to pull up past transactions you have made at that restaurant and feature them more in the menu by the time you pull up (Tuttle). The drive-thru business is constantly developing ideas to make people’s experience better than the last. So, pull up to your favorite drive-thru and enjoy a good meal in your car – considering it’s the only thing we can do during this time of quarantine!

Works Cited
“Drive-Thru.” National Museum of American History, 31 Mar. 2014, americanhistory.si.edu/food/new-and-improved/drive-thru.
“Facebook.” World Record Drive-Thru Event, 14 July 2016, www.facebook.com/events/world-record-drive-thru-event/145236022568927/.
“The Rise of the Drive-Thru.” CNBC.
Tuttle, Brad. “10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Fast Food Drive-Thru.” Money, 8 Oct. 2014, money.com/drive-thru-fast-food-fast-casual/.