In 1975, McDonald’s built the first drive-thru lane in the United States. There were drive-in restaurants before this, but there were no drive-thrus where customers would place their orders at curbside speakers. Carhops, typically seen on rollerskates, would then deliver food orders directly to customers’ automobiles. But did you know the first drive-thru was intended for servicemen?
The first McDonald’s drive-thru was built for soldiers who couldn’t leave their vehicles while they were on duty.
How Did the Concept of the Drive-Thru Start?
On January 14, 1975, an ingenious franchise owner cut a hole in the side of his restaurant, allowing customers to order food the way it was initially meant to be ordered from behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.
The US military personnel was highly instrumental in this development, especially the men and women stationed at Fort Huachuca at Sierra Vista, in particular.
Arizona was the pioneer in the McDonald’s drive-thru concept. Customers who stay in their cars account for 63% of the fast-food giant’s business. Sierra Vista was the birthplace of an idea that was one tiny step for a hungry family and one gigantic Please pull up to the window for humanity sign.
It was an invention formed out of necessity rather than convenience, one that was essential for the franchise’s existence.
Decades passed, and Americans discovered new reasons to spend more time behind the wheel, ranging from quick excursions to the shop to cross-country road trips. Butt grooves on the front seats grew louder as the love affair progressed.
A McDonald’s regional manager in Dallas noted the success of drive-thru restaurants in Oklahoma City in 1974. He eventually received approval to design and construct the company’s first drive-through, a sophisticated garden-themed four-column portico that would be affixed to an Oklahoma City restaurant. A full-size Ronald McDonald statue would take orders through speaker and microphone.
According to Steve Gregory, a technician at the Fort Huachuca Museum, soldiers at Fort Huachuca were not allowed to appear in public in their work or duty uniforms, a longtime prohibition that had to do with military decorum.
Soldiers are going to and from work dressed up because the base was only 2 miles down Sierra Vista’s main drag from McDonald’s. Rich, who had just launched his franchise the year before, knew that because of the uniform policy, soldiers would drive by instead of coming in.
Two months later, McDonald’s launched its second drive-through in Tucker, Georgia. The long-awaited drive-thru in Oklahoma City opened in April, and sales increased by 40% in just two months.
According to restaurant spokesperson Lisa McComb, approximately 2,700 of the roughly 5,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the United States at the time had drive-throughs by the end of 1979. (Source: Arizona Central)
How Did The Drive-Thru Improve Sales?
According to QSR magazine, McDonald’s, the largest fast-food company in the United States, gets 65 percent of its sales from drive-thru customers. Because drive-thru sales account for most sales, the corporation has been concentrating on improving the consumer experience.
McDonald’s, for example, is introducing twin drive-thru lanes in many new and rebuilt restaurants to improve efficiency and speed for drive-thru customers. Additionally, the company is boosting speaker clarity, using brighter, cleaner, and more organized menu boards, and introducing auto greeters that constantly notify customers of specials, offers, and promotions. (Source: Arizona Central)