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America's first drive-thru window.
Some fast food chains, such as this Rally's located near New Orleans, LA, have two drive-throughs.

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 first pioneered in the United States in the 1930s[1] but has since spread to other countries.

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, 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."



McDonald's first two-lane drive-through was at the Rock N Roll McDonald's in Chicago.


A typical Australian McDonald's drive through with speaker.

A drive-through restaurant generally consists of:

  • A speaker and microphone, or a window, for customers to order from
  • 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
  • One or more windows where employees interact with customers by taking the order and money and/or giving the customer the order

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).[citation needed]

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.[4]

Sierra Vista, Arizona, was the first city to have a McDonald's drive-through. It first opened its window on January 24, 1975, to be able to quickly feed many of the soldiers coming from Fort Huachuca, a military base located adjacent to the city.[citation needed] The original McDonald's was closed down and demolished in May 1999 and a new McDonald's replaced it.

The first drive-through restaurant (a McDonald's drive-through) in Europe opened at the Nutgrove Shopping Centre in Dublin, Ireland in 1985.[5]


A drive-through shared by a bank and a coffee shop.

In 1928, City Center Bank, which became UMB Financial Corporation, president R. Crosby Kemper opened what is considered the first drive-up window. In the page 8 of the December 15, 1940, issue of the Syracuse Herald Journal, Merchant's Bank of Syracuse, New York, ran an advertisement for the newly opened "Drive-In Teller Service" located on the side of their bank building on South Warren Street in downtown Syracuse. Westminster Bank, impressed by the concept, 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.[6]

In recent years, there has been a demise of drive-through banking due to increased traffic congestion and the increased availability of automated teller machines and telephone and Internet banking.[citation needed]

Non-car usage

Some businesses are built only for drive-through service, like this espresso shop.

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 on the basis of safety and insurance liability. Cyclists are usually refused service with the same justification given.[7]

In the UK, Australia and Canada, pedestrians are often served at drive-through windows if the main body of the restaurant is closed[citation needed]; however, this is discouraged during times that the main restaurant is open. Some busy McDonald's restaurants in particular also provide separate walk-through windows to be used on such occasions, e.g. overnight. This feature is used as a security measure on 24-hour stores.

A drive thru only Tim Hortons location in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

See also


  1. ^ Robert J. Sickels (ed), The 1940s, Greenwood Press, 2004, p. 107.
  2. ^ Hendin, David (1973). Death as a Fact of Life. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. pp. 221. ISBN 0393085406. 
  3. ^ "Want fries with that legislative help?". Pittsburgh Post Gazette (PG Publishing Co.). 2009-04-18. 
  4. ^ "In-N-Out Burger - homepage". 2008-06-09. 
  5. ^ First Drive Thru in Europe in Nutgrove, Dublin, Ireland
  6. ^ Ulster Bank drive-though banking history
  7. ^ Live Alive: Burger King Drive-Through Refused to Serve me on a bicycle

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