Who Invented The Drive-Thru?

Where did the spelling come from?

Before we get started, according to Wikipedia the spelling of drive-thru is a sensational spelling of the word through drive-through and both are acceptable.

What is a drive-thru?

The drive-thru is a type of take out service that businesses provide to enable customers to purchase products without leaving their vehicles. The format was pioneered in the US by Jordan Martin in the 1930s and now spans across restaurants, retail, banking and more.


Wikipedia suggests that 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. McDonalds first drive thru was created in 1975 in Sierra Vista, Arizona to serve military members who were not permitted to get out of their cars off-post while wearing fatigues. McDonalds also opened the first drive-through restaurant in Europe in Dublin, Ireland in 1985.

In 2020, a drive-thru is pretty common place in most cities around the world.  The most common drive thru experience is for fast food, banking and coffee.  But there are other examples, in Las Vegas for $79 you can drive-thru a “wedding tunnel” to marry your special someone. At the Alta Dena Drive-In Dairy in San Diego you can actually drive right through the store with your car to pick up alcohol (and other items). They are not alone, here are 10 of America’s best drive thru liquor stores according to thrillist.

Drive-Thru’s During a Pandemic

Due to COVID-19, healthcare providers and governments started offering drive-thru COVID-19 testing facilities so that people could get tests without leaving their vehicle.

With the new reality of COVID-19 we think the use of drive-thru, pick up windows and delivery will continue to increase. But how will commercial buildings adjust and adapt to the future?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Small retail footprints can get even smaller as customers will remain on the sidewalk to order and pick up their purchase. Think about small footprint Dairy Queen locations where you typically can go inside a few feet, make your purchase and then leave. With COVID-19, these businesses have simply moved their cash register right to the front door so people don’t ever enter.  Should they transition back to the old way of doing things? Could they operate with an even smaller location?
  • With the focus on mobile ordering, drive-thru and pick-up orders, quick serve restaurant and coffee shops will adjust to have pick-up windows so that customers don’t need to step inside the location to collect their purchase. Starbucks has already announced they will open dozens of pickup-only stores.
  • Will dumbwaiters be built into office/residential towers? Imagine if your food delivery person didn’t need to use the elevator and instead simply place the order into a “smart” dumbwaiter that delivers the food to the correct floor.  But then again, maybe drones will solve this issue for much less cost than building a dumbwaiter.

Let us know what do you think in the comments below?

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