Did you know that 20% of the average American meals are eaten in the car? Fast food has become an American staple. The quick service, cheap menu, and convenient drive-thru options have kept people coming back for decades. But how did the drive-thru start?
The U.S. fast-food business started in the 1920s, which includes the drive-in craze. The Pig Stand, a 1921 Texas chain, was way ahead of its time. Their claim to fame is the first drive-in. The parking lot was buzzing with carhops taking orders and carrying food on trays that would clip on the car window. As this style took on, restaurant owners realized they could hire fewer employees, offer lower prices, and receive higher profits. A 1931 Los Angeles franchisee of the chain, Pig Stand Number 21, exhibited a single-window where customers could order and receive bagged meals. It is unclear whether these drivers drove up to the window or walked.
With the creation of In-N-Out Burger in 1948, the popularization of drive-thrus was near. This chain had a drive-thru-centric business plan—the first offered sheets of butcher paper for their customer’s laps for a better car-eating experience. Later on, printed lap mats became a regular chain feature. Jack in the Box opened in 1951 with no inside seating. Their customers ordered with a two-way speaker, like the ones used today. Back then, customers had to be warned that a disembodied voice would be speaking to them through that box. Wendy’s also opened with drive-thru options in 1969. Hot dog specialists, Wienerschnitzel, opened with an A-shaped building in the mid-1960s, ready for cars to drive-thru right down the middle.
Changes That Followed
By the 1970s, major fast-food chains installed drive-thru windows. McDonald’s, which opened its first location in 1948 with walk-up windows, didn’t adopt a drive-thru until the 1970s. In the 1980s, 50% of fast food daily business was done through drive-through windows. They optimized the drive-thru experience. Menu items were able to be held and eaten in one hand. The items became easier to eat while driving. Chains created specialized tools to speed up food preparation, and cash registers included buttons for specific menu items. By 2017, the top 15 fast-food chains averaged between 2 and 4 minutes to complete the order.
Not only did the food and the restaurant processes change, but cars did as well. Before the popularization of drive-thrus, car storage was not a priority. As people started eating in their cars more often, there were add-ons to make the experience easier. Clip-on food trays, glove compartment cup storage, and other add-ons improved the in-car dining experience. By the late 1980s, it was fairly common to see more cup holders than passengers in the car.
Ordering has also changed our relationships with our phones. Mobile ordering, call-in ordering, and apple pay are all innovations that keep our eyes on our phones. Make sure you drive safely and keep your eyes on the road. If you find yourself in a drive-thru accident, Performance Collision Centers has you covered. Our gold-class technicians are ready to get you back on the road for good, so you don’t have to worry about a thing! Take a look at our locations to see which is closest to you.