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How do Drive-Through Restaurants Work?

A sign for a drive-thru restaurant.
A cheeseburger on a sesame seed bun.
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  • Written By: Diana Bocco
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 July 2014
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A drive-through restaurant, also known as a drive-thru, is a type of restaurant in which people can order and pick up their food without ever leaving the comfort of their cars. A drive-through usually consists of a building with a driveway wrapped around it. Drivers approach either a first window or a microphone box and place an order; then they drive around to the other side of the building, where the order is delivered through a small window and the customer can pay for it. Very busy drive-through restaurants may have two separate windows for paying and picking up the order, but most establishments do both things at once in order to speed up the process.

As the driver approaches the drive-through, there is usually a large sign listing the items available for sale. A drive-through menu is usually fixed and rarely offers specials. Given the system used by drive-through restaurants, it would be fairly difficult to change the menu often.

The first drive-through business opened was not a restaurant, but a bank. Merchant's Bank opened in Syracuse, New York, in 1941. The first drive-through restaurant did not arrive until 1947, when Red's Giant Hamburg opened in Springfield, Missouri. Drive-through restaurants became popular in the 50s, and were quickly imitated around the world. Over the past two decades, drive-through restaurants have become a staple in highways, driving stops, and small tourist towns, where speed and convenience are a must.

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Drive-through restaurants are also popular with fast food chains such as McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King. In fact, a McDonald's drive-through in Australia holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest service in the world. The MacDonald's Wynnum-West drive-through can serve up to 41 cars in 15 minutes. Walking through a drive-through is not allowed, and most restaurants will refuse service to pedestrians approaching the windows. Some places will also refuse to serve cyclists because of insurance liability. Other drive-through places offer a special window at night so pedestrians can order food when the sit-down part of the building is closed.

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Discuss this Article

anon235606
Post 4

I, Obbop, the Disgruntled Old Coot, rarely eat via the drive-through routine nor at any locale outside my humble hovel, my shanty upon the Ozark Plateau amidst the squalor of the horde of uncivil and anti-social human herd hereabouts.

When I did motor through the drive-through to grab a burger, etc. fast-food joint I nearly always grabbed some oh-so-fattening french fries, especially in winter when the birds found it harder to find food.

Notice the sparrows that often flock to cars parked near a fast-food joint, hopping around and gazing quizzically at the vehicle's occupants, apparently attempting to communicate, "Hey, fella, where's my french fry?"

Well, since my thoughts during ordering included our feathered friends, I had fries to toss that were eagerly grabbed and consumed.

I just hope that as I age further and with the economy sure to grow ever worse and my descent into the true elderly state likely to propel me to dumpster diving and begging for food money, perhaps some kind-hearted in-auto diners will toss me a few much-appreciated french fries.

cupcake15
Post 3

How interesting! For some reason I always thought that the first drive through restaurant was McDonald's. I guess you learn something new every day! I wonder how the first drive through restaurant was received -- did people think it was a cool idea, or did they just think that it was a gimmick that would die out soon? Does anybody know -- or even remember?

comfyshoes
Post 2

@Bhutan - I know what you mean. I do eat more when I order through the drive though. I don’t know why, maybe it's because it doesn't look like as big of a meal if it's not on a plate?

Bhutan
Post 1

I have to say that I love the concept of a drive through restaurant. I think that it is convenient to stay in your car when you are enjoying your meal. I know that it is easier when you have a bunch of kids in the car. I also like that I can see the menu in front of me while sitting in your car.

At the Sonic drive through, you place your order and then an employee skates over to your car to bring you your meal. It is really an entertaining experience.

While I do think that it is convenient to eat in the car, I think that when we go through the drive through we tend to eat more food and eat it at a faster rate which is what usually happens to me. I try to avoid the drive through because I need to take the time to chew my food slowly but it is hard to avoid sometimes.

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