An homage to the evolution of restaurant drive-thrus around the country

Here's some food for thought on drive thrus in America. Share this article

Americans have the luxury of ordering and consuming an entire meal without ever having to get out of their cars. The quintessential experience all happens so fast that few people get a moment to ponder the workings of the quick and easy restaurant feature. If you’ve ever wondered where drive-thrus came from and how on earth your burger is made in under a minute, here’s a glance at iconic drive-thrus around the country.

The start of In-N-Out trends 
Despite the popular notion that McDonalds was the first place to take a crack at serving food through a window, it was actually In-N-Out Burger, confirmed History.com. According to the In-N-Out’s website, the first drive-thru opened in 1948 when owner Harry Snyder had the idea to allow guests to ask for hamburgers through a two-way speaker. As stated on the site, this was a unique concept, considering the closest thing to drive-thrus for restaurants included parking spaces that were designated for carhop service.

Since then, the business has expanded to become something of a legendary burger joint for most millennial Americans. The drive-thru took off, and by 1976, In-N-Out had launched 18 of them, and although the company has eliminated some of its outside order services, the drive-thrus still remain an important aspect of business. According to the company’s website, not only do they offer fresh ingredients, but items are made to order. Even the milkshakes are made from milk – which is mind boggling considering the number of customers the fast-food place serves every year.

McDonalds drive-thru with a purpose
Shortly after the In-N-Out hype, McDonalds created its first drive-thru window in 1975 as a means to serve soldiers who weren’t allowed to get out their cars while wearing fatigues, according to the company’s website. In 1954, owner Ray Kroc discovered that he had a future in hamburgers. This epiphany happened when he was on a business trip in which he had intended to sell multi mixer milkshake machines. It’s no secret that business has taken off ever since, as there’s practically a McDonalds on every street corner. In 1965 there were already 700 locations around the country, affirmed McDonald’s website.

Chick-fil-A wins for speed
Drive-thrus quickly became a boon for quick-service establishments everywhere. From Wendy’s to Starbucks, many places offer guests the option to purchase food or drink on wheels. But since drive-thrus have become so ubiquitous, what separates the good from the great? QSR magazine set out to find the answer and explored a number of factors.

Examining a number of fast food places, the publication determined that between 1998 and 2009, drive-thrus , like Long John Silver’s and Whataburger improved in both speed and accuracy over the years. Back in the late 90s, Long John Silver’s served food at an average pace of 159.1 seconds, and in 2003, Wendy’s was ranked among as one of the best of all of the restaurants the publication reviewed. The timing was 134.1 seconds. In 1998, Whataburger had an average of 86.7 accurately served orders, and in 2009, Chick-fil-A reached an average of 96.4 accuracy. In due time, people may spend less and less time at the windows.

Does it get much better than this?
In the future, drive-thrus may evolve to be more technologically driven, explained the Huffington Post. Some establishments have already developed apps that allow people to preorder items from their phones and then pick up their order at the drive-thru. As the source confirmed, Taco Bell, White Castle and Panda Express have already created this type of service and longtime drive-thru champ McDonalds is working toward a similar feature.


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