A drive-through or drive-thru (a sensational spelling of the word through), 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 allowed only deposits at that time.
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 normally 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. However, during peak periods, to keep the queue down and avoid traffic flow problems, drive-throughs occasionally switch to an "order at the window, then park in a designated space" model where the customer will receive their food from an attendant when it is ready to be served. This results in a perceived relationship between the two service models.
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.
A drive-through restaurant generally consists of:
In McDonald's in the UK, all McDonald's are going under an EOTF transformation (Experience of the Future), where all McDonald's with Drive-Thru's will have a third window. This would be where at the second window, the presenter would tell customers to pull up to the third window (if they've got a larger order and have longer to wait), this is known as the "fast forward window". This reduces waiting times for customers.
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. The first drive-through restaurant was created in 1947 by Sheldon "Red" Chaney, operator of Red's Giant Hamburg in Springfield, Missouri. Located on the famous Route 66, the restaurant served customers until its closure in 1984. Several other companies lay claim to having invented the first restaurant of this kind, including Maid-Rite. In-N-Out Burger claims to have opened the first drive through in California in 1948. 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 installation located adjacent to the city--to serve military members who weren't permitted to get out of their cars off-post while wearing fatigues. The original McDonald's was closed down and demolished in May 1999 and a new McDonald's replaced it. In the US, drive-throughs account for 70 percent of McDonald's business and the average drive through order is fulfilled in under three and one half minutes.
In 2010, the Casa Linda, Texas, 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, Italy and other northern European countries, McDonald's drive-through service is called McDrive.
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.
Harold Willis and his father, Robert Willis, first incorporated a dairy and eggs drive through service in Redlands, California, in the early 1940s, supplying milk and eggs quickly and efficiently to driving customers; this utilized a dairy conveyor belt that Harold Willis had invented. 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 Virginia started offering the service. In 2012, the Dutch chain Albert Heijn introduced a "Pick Up Point" where one can collect groceries bought online.
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-through 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-through. The horse ended up defecating inside the restaurant which caused distress to other customers.
In May 2016, Scott McGee filed a United States federal class action lawsuit pursuing action against McDonald's due to the company being unwilling to serve people who are visually impaired when only the drive thru lane is open. As of October 2018 , the matter is still in litigation.
On May 24, 2018, a law came into effect in Portland Oregon requiring multi-modal access to drive-throughs. The new zoning law states, "When a drive-through facility is open and other pedestrian-oriented customer entrances to the business are unavailable or locked, the drive-through facility must serve customers using modes other than a vehicle such as pedestrians and bicyclists."
Some establishments provide a walk-up window instead when a drive-through may not be practical. However, the walk-up windows should not be confused with small establishments that customers are lined up for services such as mobile kitchens, kiosks or concession stands. These walk-up windows are value-added services on top of the full services provided inside the stores.
The walk-up windows generally provide similar customer experience with the drive-throughs by allowing customers to receive services from the exterior of the facilities through a window. There are many reasons for the owners to provide such services. An example is when McDonald's entered a new market in Russia where the majority of families didn't own cars, the owners developed the walk-up windows as an alternative. Another reason is to have a drive-through experience in the locations that are not feasible to construct a drive-through lane such as in city centers. Some establishments may want to use walk-up windows to attract certain customer demographics such as younger customers who need quick services during late night. Also another reason is to offer extended service hours and maintain a safe environment for employees such as a bulletproof walk-up window of convenience stores in high-crime areas.