A drive-through, or drive-thru, is a type of service provided by a business that allows customers to purchase products without leaving their cars. The format was pioneered in the United States in the 1930s by Jordan Martin, but has since spread to other countries. The first recorded use of a bank using a drive up window teller was the Grand National Bank of St. Louis, Missouri in 1930. The drive up teller only allowed deposits at that time period.
Orders are generally placed using a microphone and picked up in person at the window. A drive-through is different from a drive-in in several ways— The cars create a line and move in one direction in drive-throughs, and do not park, whereas drive-ins allow cars to park next to each other, the food is generally brought to the window by a server, called a carhop, and the customer can remain in the parked car to eat.
Drive-throughs have generally replaced drive-ins in popular culture, and are now found in the vast majority of modern American fast-food chains. Sometimes, a store with a drive-through is referred to as a "drive-through," or the term is attached to the service, such as, "drive-through restaurant," or "drive-through bank."
Drive-throughs typically have signs over the drive-through lanes to show customers which lanes are open for business. The types of signage used is usually illuminated so the "open" message can be changed to a "closed" message when the lane is not available.
- Alcohol at a drive-through liquor store
- Banking services at a drive-through bank
- Postal services at a drive-through mailbox
- Coffee at a drive-through coffee shop
- Dairy products at a drive-through dairy store (notably the Skinner Dairy shops of North-East Florida or Dairy Barn in Long Island)
- Prescriptions at a drive-through pharmacy
- Food or drink at a drive-through restaurant (typically fast food)
- Groceries at a drive-through retailer, first by Tesco, UK
- Marriage (primarily at special drive-through marriage chapels in Las Vegas in the United States)
- Funeral home where mourners can drive by and view the remains of their loved ones through windows.
- Pennsylvania State Representative Kevin P. Murphy installed a drive-through window designed to speed constituent service.
A drive-through restaurant generally consists of:
- A speaker and microphone for customers to place their orders
- A speaker and microphone or wireless headset system for employees to hear the customer's order (when a speaker is used)
- A trigger pad beneath the concrete to activate the microphone and headset, possibly augmented with a CCTV camera
- One or more free-standing signs listing the menu items, called a menu board
- Newer drive-throughs feature a LCD or LED display within the speaker system in order to show the full order and total cost to avert order errors through miscommunication. At many Yum! Brands restaurants, a secondary display featuring the total is placed directly next to the order window. This is to ensure that the customer will know if the cashier intentionally overcharges them.
- Windows where employees interact with customers by processing the customer's payment and giving them their order. Most drive-throughs have either one window serving both functions, or two windows with the first being used for payment and the second used for retrieving the order.
- Some restaurants have a marked waiting area just beyond the last window. If there is a significant delay in a customer's order, an employee may direct that customer to wait in this area, clearing the drive-through lane for the next customer and preventing delays to other customers. When the order is ready, an employee hand-delivers the order to the customer in the waiting area.
Drive-through designs are different from restaurant to restaurant; however, most drive-throughs can accommodate four to six passenger cars or trucks at once (called the queue). Most drive-through lanes are designed so the service windows and speaker are on the driver's side of the car, for example, in left-hand traffic (right-hand drive) countries such as the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, the windows will be on the right side of the drive-through lane, and vice versa in right-hand traffic (left-hand drive) countries such as North America and mainland Europe. There are a few drive-through lanes designed with the service windows on the passenger side, but these lanes are disfavored as they cannot be used easily by cars with only a driver.
According to author Michael Karl Witzel, drive-through windows were a method first tested as far back as 1931 by the Texas Pig Stand chain. In-n-Out Burger claims to have built the first drive-through restaurant in 1948. Harry and Esther Snyder, the chain's founders, built their first restaurant in Baldwin Park, California, with a two-way speaker to enable patrons to order directly from their cars without the intermediation of a carhop. Maid-Rite also claims to have had the first drive through window. Other sources cite Jack in the Box as the first major restaurant specifically designed as a drive-through and featuring a two-way intercom. The first Jack in the Box opened in 1951 in San Diego. The drive-through concept was so unfamiliar to people at the time that the Jack in the Box "clown," where the speaker was housed, held a sign saying, "Pull forward, Jack will speak to you."
Sierra Vista, Arizona, was the first city to have a McDonald's drive-through. The first McDonald’s drive-through was created in 1975 near Fort Huachuca, a military base located adjacent to the city—to serve military members who weren’t permitted to get out of their cars while wearing fatigues. The original McDonald's was closed down and demolished in May 1999 and a new McDonald's replaced it.
In 2010, the local franchise opened a drive-through/walk-up only store with no indoor seating although it has small patio with tables. The same company operates a walk-up only store front next to the West End Station of DART Rail.
In Spain and Russia, McDonald's drive-through services are often called McAuto.
In the Netherlands, Germany, France, Portugal and other northern European countries, McDonald's drive-through service is called McDrive.
In Argentina and Mexico, McDonald's drive-through service is called AutoMAC.
In 1928, City Center Bank, which became UMB Financial Corporation, president R. Crosby Kemper opened what is considered the first drive-up window. Shortly after the Grand National Bank in St Louis opened up a drive through, including a slot to the side for night time deposits. Westminster Bank opened the UK's first drive-through bank in Liverpool in 1959, soon followed by Ulster Bank opening Ireland's first in 1961 at Finaghy.
In recent years, there has been a decline in drive-through banking due to increased traffic congestion and the increased availability of automated teller machines and telephone and Internet banking. However, many bank buildings now feature drive-through ATMs.
Some supermarkets offer drive-through facilities for grocery shopping. In the UK, this service was first announced by Tesco in August 2010. And in the United States, Crafty's Drive-Buy Grocery Store in Virgina started offering the service.
Pedestrians sometimes attempt to walk through the drive-through to order food after the seated section of a fast-food restaurant has closed. Many establishments refuse drive-through service to pedestrians for safety, insurance, and liability reasons. Cyclists are usually refused service with the same justification given. However, in the summer of 2009, Burgerville gave use of the drive-thru window to bicyclists. Similar issues can arise in rural areas for people on horseback or in a horse-drawn carriage.
On 20 July 2013, a woman was fined for taking her horse inside a McDonald's restaurant in Greater Manchester, United Kingdom after being refused service at the drive-thru. The horse ended up defecating inside the restaurant which caused distress to other customers.
- Robert J. Sickels (ed), The 1940s, Greenwood Press, 2004, p. 107.
- "Autoists Do Banking From Their Cars" Popular Mechanics Monthly, July 1930, bottom left pg 13
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- "Our History". McDonalds.com. 2010-10-01. Retrieved 2013-01-27.
- "Casa Linda - Casa Linda". Mctexas.com. Retrieved 2013-01-27.
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- First Drive Thru in Europe in Nutgrove, Dublin, Ireland
- "Autoists Do Banking From Cars" Popular Mechanics, July 1930 - article and photo bottom of page 13
- Ulster Bank drive-though banking history
- "Click and collect, the new way to beat the queues at Tesco: Britain's first supermarket drive-thru opens for business". Daily Mail. 24 August 2010. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
- See Chude v. Jack in the Box, 185 Cal. App. 4th 37 (2010). In this case, Jack in the Box successfully invoked the California Personal Responsibility Act of 1996 against an uninsured driver who spilled hot coffee on herself in the drive-through, then suffered second-degree burns because the wall of the restaurant prevented her from opening her car door and escaping the hot coffee on her car seat. Under the Act, plaintiff's lack of vehicle insurance barred her from recovering noneconomic damages, which form the bulk of damages in many U.S. personal injury cases. The Court of Appeal reasoned that the burn injury was reasonably related to the operation of a motor vehicle because Jack in the Box, in accordance with its strict policy, would not have served her if she had approached the drive-through window on foot; and because her injuries were exacerbated by the fact she was sitting in a car.
- Live Alive: Burger King Drive-Through Refused to Serve me on a bicycle
- Rose, Joseph (August 13, 2009). "Burgerville to biking mom: No burgers for you!". Oregon Live. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
- "We don't do à la CART: McDonald's drive-thru refuses to serve woman in horse-drawn carriage... so she went to KFC". Daily Mail. May 26, 2011. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
- Horse in McDonald's: Rider fined after 'drive-thru' refusal BBC News 22 July 2013
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