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A carhop is a waiter or waitress who brings fast food to people in their cars at drive-in restaurants. Carhops usually work on foot but sometimes use roller skates, as depicted in movies such as American Graffiti and television shows such as Happy Days.
The first carhops 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 named R.W. Jackson, decided to take advantage of the fact that many people owned cars and more were coming. They realized that many of the drivers would rather not get out of their cars to eat. They opened a restaurant called the Pig Stand, which had male carhops from its 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 carhops.
The name "carhop" came from the practice of the waitress or waiter jumping up on the running board of a patron's car rolling into the parking lot. This car hopping showed that this particular car was that server's 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, at over 3,400 restaurants. 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, airline, space age or cheerleader theme, or any other concept an owner thought would bring customers in.
- 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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