drive thru concept

The Comeback of Drive-in and Drive-thru Dining

Picture this: it’s the middle of the night. You’re feeling “snacky.” You’re also a little bored. What do you do? Well, you call your friends or family, get into the car, and drive off in search of comfort food. Nothing sounds better than some greasy burger, salty fries, and soft-serve ice cream to curb your midnight cravings. But since everyone’s in their jammies, no one wants to get out of the car. What do you do? You go for drive-thru dining and eat at the parking lot.

Today, people are tense amid the coronavirus and the lockdown restrictions. They can’t travel at all. But that doesn’t mean that cars just have to sit inside garages, gathering dust. They can be used again, not just for essentials such as grocery runs. They can be used again for leisure and bonding. People can go out for a night of drive-thru or drive-in dining. All we have to worry about is our cars not being in top shape. After all, it’s far better to spend money on diesel repair than on hospital bills.

A Brief History of Drive-in and Drive-thru Dining

The drive-in dining experience came first in 1921, with a restaurant chain in Texas. It was called the Pig Stand. It was located along a highway connecting Dallas and Fort Worth. Drivers going through this highway could make a pit stop at the restaurant and have a full meal. They could do these without leaving their cars. Instead, servers went to them with their orders. The food was served on a tray clipped onto the car’s windowsill.

In 1933, drive-in restaurants evolved into drive-in movie theaters. The first one was called Park-In Theaters in Camden, New Jersey. Richard Hollingshead was the man behind this unique invention. He was a sales manager at an auto repair and supply shop called Whiz Auto Products. He was also an avid film fan. So he merged the two things that he loved, and the rest was history.

On the other hand, the drive-thru dining experience began in 1948, with a well-known and well-loved establishment: In-N-Out Burger. The fast-food restaurant’s first branch had the small space of only a 100-square foot shack. Five cooks could barely fit in there, let alone have tables and chairs for their customers. So they opted for a different option: offering to-go meals for drivers. In-N-Out’s innovation sparked inspiration for other fast-food chains. By the 1960s, places such as Jack-in-the-Box, Wendy’s, and Wienerschnitzel offered drive-thru services as well.

The drive-in and drive-thru dining experiences are rooted in speed and efficiency. But now, they also hold another standard: healthy safety.

Resurgence During the COVID-19 Pandemic

people eating inside the restaurantThe pandemic hit the restaurant and tourism industries very hard. They are deemed not essential. While that is true to a certain extent, they still need to recover in order for the greater economy of the country to recover. Yelp announced in July that .

But some restaurants are recovering in many ways. One way is shifting away from offering dine-in services. Many establishments, especially fast-food chains, are popularizing again online orders and drive-thrus.

For example, Starbucks planned to close 400 locations. But they are transitioning to stores with takeout and drive-thru services only. Kevin Johnson, their CEO, told Restaurant Business, “Starbucks Pickup stores will provide more points of presence to better serve ‘on-the-go’ customers while reducing crowding in our cafes.” Other chains are following the same model. Burger King, Del Taco, and Jack-in-the-Box are embracing the drive-thru experience as well.

The drive-in restaurant is making a comeback in various places as well. In San Francisco, Mel’s Drive-in is always buzzing with customers. People are drawn to the nostalgic feel of the restaurant ad that they can wait for their burgers, fries, and milkshakes even for a long time. Diners and other restaurant establishments across the country also turned to drive-in services.

This is how businesses stay afloat as they cope with the “new normal” that social distancing has brought. Customers may not be able to go out on road trips. But they can still go out and bond while staying safe from the virus.

The economy has been making slow and steady progress in the last couple of months. But there’s still no widely-available vaccine. So it’s crucial for us to be vigilant and remain safe. We can’t travel yet, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t go out at all. There are safe ways to have some fun with friends and family. Drive-thru and drive-in restaurants are there to serve us good food as we stay safe in our cars.