THOMPSON: How the McDonald's drive-thru was born | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

Would you like to subscribe to our newsletter?

Kamloops News

THOMPSON: How the McDonald's drive-thru was born



Every day, about 2.5 million Canadians buy food at one of the 1,403 McDonald’s across Canada. But, most - 1.7 million - never set foot in one of those restaurants. They order, pay and pick up their food at drive-thru windows and eat on the go.

Of course, it wasn’t always like that. McDonald’s opened a restaurant in my hometown - Ocala, FL - in 1965…the 700th restaurant in the chain…a decade after the first one in California. And…there was no drive-thru in any of them. Every hamburger-lover went inside…ordered, paid and - almost always - ate in their cars in the parking lot or on one of maybe two concrete picnic tables in view of the Golden Arches.

Canada’s first McDonald’s opened in Richmond, B.C. in 1967…the chain’s first restaurant outside the United States. Again, no drive-thru. Indeed, McDonald’s didn’t open its first drive-thru until 1975…48 years ago, tomorrow, Jan. 24…in Arizona. And, had it not been for the U.S. Army…that drive-thru wouldn’t have existed either. More on that later…but first some other fast-food history.

It was 1970 when McDonald’s - then a 1,600-restaurant chain - started building truly sit-down restaurants…indoor seating rather than picnic tables and parking lots. There were just a handful of drive-thru burger restaurants in America in the late 1940s…mostly mom-and-pop places…Red’s Giant Hamburg on Route 66 in Springfield, MO and the first In-N-Out Burger in Baldwin Park, CA, a Los Angeles suburb.

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK

Drive-up joints…first with car-hops - often on roller skates - then with two-way speakers preceded the mom-and-pop drive-thrus. The car-hops - usually young girls in short roller-skate skirts and jaunty hats - would deliver burgers, fries and milkshakes on a tray that hung over your partially open driver’s door window.

There were a few car-hop drive-in restaurants in my hometown as a child and teenager - Jerry’s, The Big D, The Chicken Ranch - but the original was in 1921 on the Dallas-Fort Worth Highway.

The Pig Stand - which would grow to 131 restaurants in nine states by the start of the Great Depression - dressed boys in black trousers, white shirts and black ties who would literally jump on the running boards of the cars entering restaurants’ parking lots and take orders…hence the name car-hop. The last Pig Stand closed in 2006…bankrupt from back taxes.

All the early burger places seemed cheap. In 1965 at the McDonald’s in my hometown, I could get a hamburger for 15 cents…a so-called McDouble for 28 cents, fries for 15 cents, a cheeseburger was 20 cents and 8 cents more for a McDouble cheeseburger…a Filet o’fish was 24 cents and a milkshake 22 cents…Cokes were a dime. Of course, a dollar bought more back then…it’s the equivalent of about $14 in today’s dollars.

But how did the first drive-thru at McDonald’s come to be? That MacDonald’s was less than two miles from Fort Huachuca - a U.S. Army base near Sierra Vista, AR - about 15 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. It did not open as a drive-thru.

Back then, the U.S. Army did not allow soldiers to enter civilian places in work uniforms…so-called fatigues. Officers and enlisted soldiers could only wear Class As off post…not the every day uniform. The franchise owner - Dave Rich - knew the Army regulations and realized he was losing hundreds of customers every day.

So, he literally cut a hole in the side of the restaurant and installed a sliding window. U.S. Army customers could now order, pay and drive away…the McDonald’s drive-thru was born.

By 1979, 2,700 of the 5,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. were drive-thrus…and today two-thirds of McDonald’s food and beverage sales are bought by people who never enter the restaurants.

Even so, the biggest boost in drive-thru customers - for McDonald’s and all other fast-food restaurants - came after the mandatory use of passive restraint systems and the introduction of cup holders in vehicles in the early 1980s. Today, you almost never see a McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King or Tim Horton’s without a drive-thru. It is how America and Canada eat.

So-called fast food is - for better or worse - an integral part of North American culture…and it has grown substantially each of the last 16 years. In the U.S. alone, fast food restaurants account for more than $112 Billion in annual sales.

The next generation might well push sales far beyond today’s levels. In terms of branding, the fictional character Ronald McDonald was recognized by 96 percent of children aged 12 and under in a worldwide survey…beating out Santa Claus. It should shock no one that 1 out of every 8 workers in America today…at one time worked for McDonald’s.

The truth is…fast food isn’t exactly healthy and nutritious. Looking for a heathy diet in fast food restaurants is like looking for love in a whore house. Generally, there’s too much sugar, too much salt, too many trans-fats and too many processed preservatives and ingredients. And honestly, how many people go to Wendy’s for the healthy apple pecan chicken salad?

Still, most of us eat fast food sometime during the year. At best, we should admit a trip to McDonald’s is simply a guilty pleasure…something best not made a daily habit. But, another truth…it’s as American as apple pie, fried chicken and baseball.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor.

News from © iNFOnews, 2023

  • Popular vernon News
View Site in: Desktop | Mobile