Does The Drive-Thru Deserve Its Own Day?

By Bill Visnic July 23, 2010

It's not like you'll have to mark your calendar or anything, because you'll probably be visiting one anyway, but you may want to be extra certain to avail yourself of some kind of drive-thru service this Saturday, July 24: it's National Drive-Thru Day.

Gulf Oil Co. world's first drive in service station.JPGWe hope you share our cautionary twinge about paying homage to what has to be a key pathogen in America's obesity epidemic, but the restaurant industry (at least that's who we think came up with the idea) figures it can't hurt and Hallmark probably is hot on the trail, too.

We'd be better human beings without them, but the drive-thru has exponentially surpassed its equally Americana-ish but less prolific cousin, the drive-in theater, with a staying power that makes it as much a part of daily life as television or the Internet.

The hamburger chain In-N-Out Burger (say no more) seems to lay reasonably uncontested claim to the first drive-thru for fast food in 1948. The fact it was in California also seems to have helped cement the phenomenon to the Sunshine State, but drive-thrus have become so nationally ubiquitous it's more a novelty to come across a fast-food joint that doesn't feature one.

Drive-thru image 1.jpgIn Vegas you can have a drive-thru wedding and just about anything else without wandering from the steel and aluminum confines and our species is so enamored of the idea some aren't sure why they're building restaurants with sitting areas anymore.

As an aside, gas stations might technically be considered the first true "drive-thru" retailers. The opening photo is of the Gulf Refining Company's drive-in service station in Pittsburgh, PA, which is acknowledged as the nation's first structure designed and built specifically for drive-in service. The year was 1913 and looking closely at the top shows the lightbulbs to spell for nighttime motorists, "Good Gulf Gasoline."

Like 'em or hate 'em, drive-thrus are a prominent leg on the car-culture stool, so we thought the most redeeming way to recognize the day is by asking readers to chip in with their favorite - or most-despised - drive-thrus.

Why "most-despised?" Drive-thrus are a convenience, but we're not saying that's necessarily good. And while some national chains are notorious for rotten drive-thru service or inane drive-thru design, we've come across plenty of one-off drive-thrus (the local dry-cleaner) that are laughably epic failures.

Share your drive-thru likes and dislikes in the comment section, or Twitter photos with your 140-character descriptor to @autoobserver.

 

Lead photo courtesy Bob Beck/Gulf Oil Historical Society

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David Greene says: 12:54 PM, 07.23.10

In college i piled into a 1990 Honda Civic with 5 guys for a late night fast-food run. We decided to drive thru six times, once for each of us, so we could all get our proper change. For the guys sitting on the passenger side, we drove in reverse so they could order and pay on their own.

bc1960 says: 10:55 PM, 07.23.10

I'm quite partial to the "Brew-Thrus" in North Carolina and drive-up liquor stores in various towns in Maryland. But my fondest memories are the drive-in booths with your food brought by carhops at Eat'n'Parks in SW Pennsylvania in the 1960s, and the Naugles in St. Louis, open until 3 AM when I was in college.

dg0472 says: 2:00 PM, 07.25.10

Indeed many stores are being rebuilt with much smaller seating areas, I've noticed.

Winning idea: Jack in the Box for having the full menu there for you before you reach the speaker so you can decide while the other car is ordering.

Best double design: Greensboro-based Cook Out's; both lanes order from the driver's side. The left lane pulls to a window on the side of the building. The right lane stops, then makes a left turn to pull to a window on the front of the building. Maybe others have this?

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