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History of Drive-Thru Restaurants

Bonji Hot Takes: Volume 63


Welcome back to the Bonji Hot Takes! We hope your week has been filled with success and happiness. The weekend is near but we hope to offer some value before this week closes and you are enjoying the time off. It is arguable who was the first to introduce the modern drive-thru concept. However, the idea of not leaving your car at a restaurant was popular prior to drive-thru service. This all began with the drive-in concept that was popularized by a Texas chain, The Pig Stand, which saw customers stay on the premises and eat in their cars. This was in the 1920s, but what came next?

Photo by Thomas Hawk

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The Progression of Drive-Thru There were all sorts of inventions and systems between 1920 and the 1940s that was slowly bridging the gap between drive-ins and drive-thrus. Most of which was designed to have customers stay in their cars while calling in to place an order. Sometimes they would have to get out of their cars to receive the food, sometimes they would have it brought out to them. Drive-in diners may be something that many of us are familiar with based on television, movies, and even experiences. Yet, many give credit to In-N-Out for modernizing the drive-thru. In 1948, In-N-Out revolutionized the fast-food industry by introducing a constant lane for drivers to grab and go. In fact, this even revolutionized the car industry! Did you know cup holders weren't a standard in cars until drive-thrus became popular? Yup, In-N-Out is claiming a shift in multiple industries, and maybe rightfully so. Although there are others out there who are listed as being the first full drive-thru restaurant, it was all around the same year and In-N-Out truly took it to the mainstream. Funny enough, this seems to be generally an American concept. Maybe we're all just a bit lazy. Kidding, but the facts show that there are very few drive-thrus in other countries. A majority report that the only drive-thrus they see are at American establishments like McDonalds, and even those are rare to see! Nonetheless, drive-thrus ideas started gaining traction as early as the 1920s, yet it wasn't until In-N-Out brought it to the mainstream that they took over. Now, it's hard to drive a few miles without seeing some form of drive-thru. In my eyes, take us back to the drive-in, which feels more authentic. A couple quick statistics: over 60% of fast-food customers prefer drive-thrus, tens of billions of trips to drive-thrus occur every year, and hamburgers by far the #1 seller at drive-thrus.

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