Although drive-in restaurants become quite popular while the 1950s, the idea itself is positively a bit older than this. The first drive-in restaurants opened as early as the 1910’s to capitalize on the new invention, the automobile, which was quickly catching on with the population at large rather than just automobile hobbyists. These early drive-in restaurants are said to be the starting of the fast food restaurant; they invited customers to pull off the road, but did not regularly have indoor seating. Most customers ate in their cars before driving away, unlike today’s drive-through restaurants designed for those who want to take the food home with them.
Drive in restaurants could finally reach their height of popularity after World War Ii, when soldiers returned home, got jobs, and could finally afford their own house cars. This allowed families to travel to restaurants nightly. The transition from traditional sit-down restaurants to these quicker fixes shows just how much the car culture changed life while this time.
The first drive-in restaurants were mom and pop operations, not the large franchises that you’d find today. By the 1960s, however, this all had changed. The “Baby Boomers” generation led to extensive recognition of teenagers as a certain age group. Many owned their own cars thanks to postwar prosperity. This new group loved to rehearsal their purchasing power, and had a profound influence on thousands of products, fluctuating from cars to clothing to fast food.
The Drive-In bistro
During the 1950s and early 1960s, families and teenaged couples could be seen getting a bite to eat at a drive in restaurant, where a carhop would serve the guests in their car. The food was meant to be eaten in the car itself; many 1950s vehicles positively had trays built into the glove compartment to hold cups of soda. Although it seems strange today, with the prevalence of fast food restaurants in every city, back then there was no fast way to get restaurant food.
The idea of the drive-in got a boost from this newfound car culture. These hangout spots made popular date spots and family-friendly evenings. Successful drive-ins became franchises, much as drive straight through fast food restaurants have done today.
The novelty of this new marketing idea, however, began to fade by the mid 1970s. It was quickly substituted with a new idea, the drive-through restaurant. These cut out the carhop, and food is served directly from a window rather than by someone who must come out to your car. New cars no longer come with beverage and meal trays in the glove compartment, but rather with cup-holders in the town console.
There are still drive-in restaurants around, although most have changed into drive-through restaurants or have turned into “nostalgic” style restaurants. Many pine for these “simpler” times in the 1950s and 1960s. These nostalgic feelings have led to a resurgence not only of 1950’s style drive ins, but also pedal cars, 1950s retro-style home decor, and countless other ideas once popular decades ago. As baby boomers grow older, the toys and other pop culture ideas of their youth are making a comeback. If you want to participate in this retro culture, visit a retro drive-in restaurant, buy a pedal car for your children, and add some retro styling to your home.