Red, White, and Drive-Thru

July 13, 2021

If asked to name the top five words synonymous with July, most people would answer ‘hotdogs, hamburgers, apple pie, and fireworks.’ Drive-thrus may not be on the list, but they have been an American staple since the 1950s. They also happen to have their very own day every July 24th as restaurants across the nation celebrate National Drive-Thru Day.

We have the iconic burger restaurant, Jack in the Box, to thank for this not-so Hallmark holiday. From the inception of drive-thrus during the 1950s to their 1970s insurgence, drive-thrus have taken on various degrees of importance culturally. According to the National Museum of American History, drive-thrus took off in the 70s due to increased single-parent households, an influx of people working outside the home, and more after-school activities.

While most drive-thrus are for fast food, recently, many formerly eat-in-only establishments have seen the value in offering their patrons more ways to access their menus. The use of mobile apps and online ordering has helped these businesses find innovative ways to remain steady.

Covid-19 has affected permanent changes in many restaurants. In the midst of and post-pandemic, while keeping safety top of mind for employees and patrons alike, drive-thrus have offered a viable option to provide social distancing, per the CDC, while still being able to serve their fares while many establishments were on lockdown.

Widespread revisions have included:

  • Adding more drive-thru lanes.
  • Walk-up windows.
  • Designated curbside pickup spots.
  • Eliminating indoor dining spaces.

Businesses have found phasing out dining rooms has added increased benefits to their bottom line. Eliminating table cleanup frees up staff time; drink refills are now a nonexistent cost, and trash pick and expenses are also less, to name a few. Businesses that will make these changes can focus more on product quality and output, especially if the reclaimed space is utilized to add another kitchen or more prep and assembly space.

For those looking to start or build a restaurant soon, a new normal may be smaller building footprints and more outdoor space to accommodate extra drive-thru lanes, curbside delivery, or even more patio dining. However, whatever the size, it’s pretty clear that drive-thrus are here to stay.

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