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A carhop is a waiter or waitress who brings fast food to people in their cars at drive-in restaurants. Usually car hops work on foot but sometimes use roller skates. The popularity of movies such as American Graffiti and shows like Happy Days created a misconception of carhops as exclusively roller skaters.
The first car hops appeared in 1921 when automobiles were beginning to be a common sight in Dallas, Texas. Two men, a businessman named J.G. Kirby and a physician with the name of R.W. Jackson decided to take advantage that many people owned cars and more were coming. They realized that many of the drivers were also lazy, too lazy in fact to get out of their cars to eat. They opened a restaurant called the Pig Stand which had male carhops from their inception. The A&W corporate website actually claims to have opened the first carhop restaurant in 1923, just two years after The Pig Stand initiated car hops.
The name "carhop" came from the practice of the waitress or waiter jumping up on the running board of a patron rolling into the parking lot. This car hopping showed that this particular car was that servers car, as tips were the main income of these waiters and waitresses. Women replaced male carhops, as during World War II, when most men were in the war, restaurants discovered that a pretty face sold more food.
Now carhops are only featured at a few remaining original drive-in stands and nostalgic fast food establishments. The few remaining drive-ins are mostly in small towns with local ownership. Sonic Drive-In still uses carhops as servers to customers, with over 3,400 restaurants available. There has been a resurgence with some franchises cashing in on the nostalgic aspect and tapping into the memories of the baby boomers.
The uniforms of early carhops were important, as many drive-ins were competing and something eye-catching was seen as gamesmanship. There was often a military theme, airline theme, space age theme or cheerleader theme along with any other whim an owner thought would get customers.
- p.34 Hinckley, Jim & Robinson, Jon G. The Big Book of Car Culture 2005 Motorbooks
- Koutsky, Kathryn Strand; Koutsky, Linda Koutsky & Ostman, Eleanor (2003). Minnesota Eats Out: An Illustrated History. Minnesota Society Press. p. 134.
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