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Drive-Thru Culture

Tom Vanderbilt has a nice article in Slate about the business and culture of drive-throughs.

It's been quite a while since I've used a drive-through (possibly because I don't frequent a lot of businesses that have them). I think the article makes a few potentially misleading claims about drive-throughs, nevertheless. Vanderbilt notes that McDonald's does about 65% of its sales through the drive-through window; and that the company once demolished a store in California when the local government used an ordinance banning drive-throughs to prevent a remodeled McDonalds from having one. Stories like this might lead you to believe that drive-throughs are universally necessary for the success of fast-food.

Not every McDonald's has a drive-through. I don't think any food-court location has one, nor do some McDonald's stores in urban areas where retail space is limited. And don't forget the walk-up window I spotted at a McDonald's in Manhattan over the summer.


I think the reality is that McDonald's and other businesses will adapt to whatever culture is most profitable. If that means drive-throughs across suburban America - that's what they'll do. If it means sidewalk service in New York City, that's what you'll get. In that sense, the popularity of drive-throughs seems like more a symptom of car-culture than the cause of it.

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