McDonald’s First Drive-Thru Was Made for Soldiers – Not Civilians
It's hard to think that drive-thru's weren't always a thing. One man changed the game when he wanted the soldiers in his town to say, "I'm lovin' it!"
There's a chance that you don't remember McDonald's without the option of staying in your vehicle and receiving a delicious Quarter-pounder with cheese combo, golden fries, and a refreshing fountain drink. Maybe if you reach back into the memory bank, you CAN remember it, but it's so distant that it doesn't even seem real.
Drive-thru's were around in the early 1970's, but they weren't a big part of the culture at that point. To think, cars didn't have the necessities back then. There were no drink holders that were standard in vehicles yet.
However, the concept was noticed by a McDonald's regional manager in Dallas, of those restaurants with drive-thru service in Oklahoma City. Thinking they were on to something, he got the OK from higher ups to renovate a McDonald's location in OKC for the first McDonald's drive-thru.
But it didn't actually start in Oklahoma City. The regional manager from Dallas was to design "a thoughtful garden-themed four-column portico to be attached to an Oklahoma City restaurant. It would be populated by a handful of McDonald’s characters, including a full-size Ronald McDonald statue that would take orders via speaker and microphone."
The concept eventually caught the ear of Sierra Vista, Arizona McDonald's owner David Rich. He was intrigued, because some of his best customers weren't allowed to order at the counter.
Soldiers from Fort Huachuca, just two miles from the Sierra Vista McDonald's, would drive by the restaurant while on duty instead of stopping in, as a standing order at the base prevented soldiers from wearing their uniforms in public.
You see, designing and building a thoughtful garden-themed four-column portico with the Ronald McDonald-equipped speaker would take time. Time that David Rich didn't have. Instead, he just pushed out a small portion of wall. He then installed a sliding window, low enough to be reached by vehicle, and big enough to pass burgers and fries through.
On Jan. 24, 1975, McDonald's, the world’s largest fast-food franchise, opened its first drive-through in Sierra Vista, Arizona.
Do Drive-Thru's Help Restaurants?
That's kind of a silly question, but I'm glad you asked!
Two months after the initial McDonald's drive-thru opened, the second opened in Tucker, Georgia. The long-planned Oklahoma City drive-thru finally opened that April. Sales jumped 40 percent in just two months!
The concept went "viral" before viral was even a thing, and by the end of 1979, nearly 2,700 of the 5,000 McDonald's restaurants in the country had drive-thrus, according to restaurant spokesperson Lisa McComb.
Is the Original Drive-Thru Still There?
Unfortunately, as time goes on, it's necessary to do renovations, or as you've probably seen, demolitions to build all-new McDonald's restaurants. In 1999, the original drive-thru and restaurant were set for demolition to make way for an updated McDonald's, this one with TWO drive-thru windows.
Before it was demolished, as much that could be dismantled and sold, was. Patrick Arbenz won a bid for windows, which he had zero need for. But his daughter, Debbie, had spent many McHours behind the drive-thru window, that he just had to have it. He presented it to her as a gift. It was eventually put into a local museum in Sierra Vista.
McDonald's drive-thru now accounts for 63% of business! So, Sierra Vista was the innovator for what the majority of the biggest fast food chain's moneymaker would be.
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