Going to a drive-in for a meal of burgers and fries was fun for a Boomer kid in a whole lot of ways. First of all, a hamburger, fries, and a shake tasted like heaven. Second, eating in the car was a blast. And thirdly, your food was deliverd by a cute teenaged girl on roller skates.
How much better could life get?
It all started back in 1921. Automobiles were beginning to be a ubiquitous sight in Dallas, Texas. A businessman named J.G. Kirby and a physician by the name of R.W. Jackson decided to take advantage of the fact that many people owned cars, and that many of them were also lazy, too lazy to get out of their cars to eat. They opened a restaurant called the Pig Stand.
Do you get the idea that these guys didn’t think a lot of their customers?
A&W, which began business in 1919, soon followed suit as drive-in restaurants became more and more popular. The A&W corporate website actually claims to have opened the first carhop restaurant in 1923, but Pig Stands had male carhops from their inception.
Soon, carhop-delivered food could be obtained in drive-ins all over the country. A particular hotspot was the Los Angeles area, a haven for car owners even in the early part of the century. L.A. probably had more drive-ins than any other urban location in the first half of the century.
Flash forward to the 1950’s. Drive-in restaurants had a population explosion, as fathers who fought in WWII were looking for places to take their families out to dinner that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Drive-ins filled the bill perfectly, as moms loved getting a break from cooking, and kids, well as I mentioned before, they loved drive-ins for a variety of reasons.
You would pull up to the drive-in, and a carhop would come skating out to take your order. Then, she would glide back into the restaurant, beauty in motion on eight wheels. Perhaps fifteen minutes later, she would return, carrying your order on a tray that was made to fit perfectly on your father’s window rolled up about two inches. Then, dad would distribute the hot, sweetly aromatic, paper-wrapped delicacies amongst the other inhabitants of the Plymouth.
I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted anything as delicious as carhop-delivered-French fries, circa 1967.
Drive-in restaurants with carhop-delivered food have declined since that golden Eisenhower decade. But they still exist. And the ones that are still around are doing quite well, thank you.
The one with the best food, IMHO, is In-N-Out, an L.A.-based chain that stretches as far east as Vegas, whose franchise unfortunately doesn’t feature carhops. But I remember carhop service at one in Azusa, California, about 25 years ago. Other chains that are still around (and that still have carhops in at least some of their locations) include Sonic, Dog-N-Suds, and the aforementioned A&W.
Some independents still have their carhops on skates. Workman’s comp costs have put the rest on sneakers.
So here’s to a cute teenaged girl bringing you your burgers, fries, and malts on a tray to your car window. For pete’s sake, leave her a tip, would you?