They key to making food fast isn’t just the way you make it. It’s as much about the perception that one can get in and out without hassle. Fans of fast food don’t necessarily want to wait for a table, and then wait for service.
Before the advent of cars, fast food was a walk-up experience. As far as I can tell there was no rail thru locations set up for trains. That would be a tough order for the engineer. “I’ll take 400 Big Macs…”
By the 1950s driving thru or driving up was where it was at for fast food. What may surprise you is who was first to nail the format. Once they had a template, then it spread via Route 66 and into your town. It all started with a simple idea…
The First A&W – 1919
The first A&W in Lodi, California may have been walk-up service, but in time the chain developed a reputation for drive-up service. Back in those days, you drove into a covered parking spot, where a server would come to your car. To let them know you were ready to order you just flip on your lights. If you’ve never enjoyed a Root Beer Float from the seat of your car on a hot summer afternoon, your life is not complete.
The First McDonald’s – 1940
Roy Croc’s McDonald’s didn’t start as his idea. It was the McDonald brothers, Richard and Maurice. Croc came on board as a franchise operator. He bought out the brothers to expand his empire. One of the legends behind Croc is that he considered himself in the real estate business. I imagine that only the Catholic Church has more land capital than McDonald’s. It all started with this one in the picture. In case you’re wondering who was the first place to open a drive-thru, it wasn’t Mr. Croc…
In-N-Out’s First Drive-Thru – 1948
This isn’t just where In-N-Out started, it’s where the drive thru started in California. Yup, they beat McDonald’s. The first In-N-Out location was Baldwin Park. Today, you can’t find an In-N-Out burger joint just anywhere. The family-run chain operates with very strict beef standards. On any given day, lines of cars during lunch hour stretch into traffic. Foot soldiers take orders while they direct traffic to keep the line moving and the patrons happy.
Tastee Freez – 1950
“Sucking on a chili dog outside the Tastee Freez,” was about the weirdest line in a song if you grew up in Minnesota. We had Dairy Queen locations instead. The song was John Cougar’s Jack and Diane, by the way. Tastee Freez started in Illinois, but they are now centered in California, owned by the same people who own Weinerschnitzel. I wonder how much they paid Cougar to put their brand in his song? [My guess: $0]
The First Jack in The Box – 1951
If you’ve ever had the pleasure, Jack in the Box makes a solid shake. They’re also not too bad with breakfast. The chain was the first chain to offer breakfast all day, sometimes 24 hours a day. Unlike other burger joints, they weren’t afraid to offer offbeat items like egg rolls and tacos. They are still primarily a regional player on the West Coast. Look at how perfectly they nailed the architectural balance of the building to incorporate a drive-thru.
The First Mel’s Drive-in – 1953
Mostly famous for the movie American Graffiti, Mel’s remain an icon. For Californian’s, Mel’s is still a good place to grab a burger and shake. These days they don’t bring out your food on roller skates, but many of the original locations are still beating.
Burger King’s First Location – 1953
Started in Florida, Insta-Burger King didn’t do so well. Two of the franchise owners at the time bought a couple of the units, then rebranded the chain as Burger King. They were more a walk up service at first, but eventually went drive thru. You can now find Burger King in 100 countries. They are still the Home of the Whopper.
The First Wienerschnitzel – 1961
The first time one visits California or Texas, assuming you are from elsewhere, The Weinerschnitzel scans as a one-off. Nobody is selling hot dogs like they sell hamburgers, you’ll tell yourself. You are so wrong. People come out of the woodwork for Wienerschnitzel treats, which are more than hot dogs these days. Perhaps their success is due to nailing the drive thru right way.