On a return trip, from a funeral in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania recently, I became extremely hungry. The driver, a friend and fraternity Brother, Jerome Dean, stopped at one of the premier fast-food restaurants in the area and entered a long line for the drive-thru window. Thankfully, the line moved quickly. As we moved to one of the two windows to pay and pick up our orders, my mind quickly traveled back to the days when our only alternative would have been to park and go into the restaurant. So, what memories do you have of drive-thru window services back in the day?
Most of you are familiar with drive-thru windows today. According to an Internet search, I learned that the first drive-thru opened in 1947. I thought that it would have been Gino’s Burgers & Chicken or a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) restaurant. It definitely was not a McDonald’s because the first drive-thru McDonald’s in this country was not until 1975. The first drive-thru happened to be a Red’s Giant Hamburg drive-thru located in Springfield, Missouri that opened its doors in 1947. Many of you, like me do not recall your first drive-thru experience. However, you may recall receiving food at a drive-in restaurant. In 1921, carhops first appeared in Dallas, Texas at a restaurant named Pig Stand. The originators concluded that drivers would prefer not to get out of their cars to go into the restaurant. These types of restaurants were scattered throughout most cities and towns where you would drive to a restaurant and park in a designated parking spot, place your order by speaking into a microphone and a waiter or waitress, referred to as a carhop delivered the order to your car. Aluminum trays were affixed over the car window to hold the food ordered and families ate in a relaxed environment in their cars. Carhops wore distinctive, eye-catching themed uniforms and some made their deliveries while on roller skates. Sonic was a big name in drive-in restaurants. However, my early memories of these restaurants take me to a Hot Shoppe, located at Broad and Stenton Avenue in Philadelphia that I regularly patronized. While a few drive-in restaurants are still around, the increase in automobile ownership led to the introduction and expansion of drive-thru restaurants. Drive-in restaurants have slowly disappeared and but for existing in small and rural towns, have been left, back in the day.
A drive-thru is a type of business that permits customers to make purchases or receive services without leaving their automobiles. This concept is different than a drive-in as the customer does not park his or her automobile and wait for an associate to come to deliver their order. With the drive-thru business, goods or services are ordered by an automobile occupant who drives through a lane, stops to order through an intercom system, pays, and receives the ordered items while remaining in the automobile. In simple terms, it is a process which allows one to order, pay and pick up their order, and continues one’s journey without parking or leaving the automobile. Interestingly, Devyn Nance, in an August 24, 2020 Internet article, ‘May I Take Your Order: The History of Drive-Thrus,” contends that the earliest iteration of a drive-thru was the drive-in movie theater. Now, I take exception to this characterization as a drive-thru as such establishments were more akin to the drive-in establishments that were discussed earlier. The Red’s Giant Hamburg drive-thru is believed to be the first of its kind. It was a modified drive-thru concept. Devyn Nance, through her research, identifies the In-N-Out Burger in Baldwin California, established in 1948, as the first drive-thru that operates in accordance with how drive-thrus operate today.
The drive-in and drive-thru services of years ago have had a direct impact on today’s lifestyle. Let us reflect on drive-thru services available today. It is a convenience to order, pay, and pick up your goods without leaving your automobile. While drive-thru restaurants are probably most paramount in your minds, there are other drive-thrus that are used today. When I go to the post office, I usually go to a drive-thru drop box. In picking up a prescription from the drug store, I go to a drive-thru window. I have observed people in my neighborhood going to a drive-thru window for their dry-cleaning needs. Some places, Las Vegas, Nevada, in particular, offer drive-thru marriage services. I have heard and read about drive-thru funeral viewings; for you perhaps, but not for me. Drive-thru medical testing has become increasingly popular with coronavirus testing and vaccinations. I suspect some participate in drive-thru grocery shopping for a limited number of items. What about alcoholic beverages? Yes, they do exist but not in Pennsylvania. Drive-thru coffee shops have become popular. Emission testing and automobile registration services are now available through a drive-thru. Banking is one drive-thru service that most of us prefer to use. I must share with you an incident involving my late sister: she walked to her bank only to find that it was closed but the drive-thru window was open. She decided to walk up to the drive-thru window; it may surprise you to know that she was refused service. Thankful, it was not me as I would have returned when the bank was fully opened and withdrew all of my money in quarters. I read that in one community, a person was fined for attempting to create a walk-up window.
Drive-thru services are expanding. The convenience of transacting business without getting out of your automobile provides greater safety and protection, especially during inclement weather. Be thankful that drive-thru services are available today. Hopefully these services will continue to expand and allow you to carry out personal and business activities in the comfort of your automobile. Let us not return to the inconveniences to which many people were subjected, back in the day.