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The History of The Drive-In Restaurant

Feb 25, 2008
The drive in restaurant conjures up images of carhops wearing striped dresses, aprons, and roller skates, of jukebox music and restaurant menus featuring burgers, fries, and malts. More than one drive in restaurant has laid claim to being the first in the US, but most agree that the Pig Stand in Dallas, Texas is the one that deserves this coveted honor. In 121, JG Kirby opened his restaurant, because he thought that his customers would be too lazy to come inside. Little did Kirby know that he was launching an idea that would soon take the nation by storm.

Another restaurant in Glendale, CA, which opened in 1936, also claims to have been the first, but in any case, the popularity of this type of establishment reached its peak in the 1950s, when competition from fast food restaurants like McDonalds became too intense. Eating in the car was a big attraction for most people, and the added feature of the carhops, who were usually women but sometimes men, who would deliver your food to you on special trays designed to hang from the windows of your car, made this type of restaurant essentially ubiquitous during this time period.

Although the image of the carhop is usually one of a teenaged girl on roller skates, most carhops did not actually wear them. Many restaurants did use gimmicks to make their establishment stand out from the crowd however. Most required some type of uniform for their hops and some did make skates part of this ensemble, but there were also drive ins where you could see clown costume clad carhops balancing trays of burgers and fries as they weaved through the sea of cars surrounding the building. Restaurant menus for these drive ins usually stuck to the basics, but a few, like Sonic, which is still in operation today, offered extras like Coney dogs and cheese corn dogs and other unique items. The Penguin in Wisconsin even had seafood related items, like cups of clam chowder on its menu.

Some of these restaurants, like Sonic, exist today, and many regularly hold 40s and 50s nights, complete with period music, costumes, and entertainment as a way of remembering the time periods in American history when restaurant menus were simple, computerized ordering was just a dream, and you did not even have to leave your car or drive off of the lot to enjoy a hot meal with your family, a group of friends, or your date.
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