As made-up commercial holidays go, National Drive-Thru Day (July 24) is no sillier than, say, National Cherry Tart Day, which you may have missed back in June. But there’s a special relevance to celebrating the simple wonder of drive-throughs during the summer of COVID-19.
Vis-à-vis reopenings, cars figure prominently into post-pandemic experiences, from food to fun, as people seek entertainment best enjoyed from inside a two-ton mobile coronavirus shield, equipped with cup holders. Numerous brands are jumping in with cool concepts, both old and new.
Take McDonald’s. It didn’t invent the drive-through concept associated with the burger behemoth. Mickey D’s already had about 3,000 locations when its first drive-through location opened in 1975. California’s Jack in the Box gets the ribbon for being first, debuting drive-through only in 1951.
That hasn’t stopped bellwether McDonald’s, whose same-store sales fell 3.4 percent in the first three months of 2020, with a brutal 22 percent nosedive in March as on-premise dining ceased. The chain circulated a 59-page reopening guide for workers in May, then paused its reopening in July as COVID cases spiked again. Recovery hopes are riding on a $200 million ad blitz.
Pandemic Time Machine
Celebrations of National Drive-Thru Day seem somewhat muted this year, as tens of millions have already turned to mobile sustenance during the lockdowns. A great many still are. However, if you can get to one of the 580 Del Taco locations on July 24, it’s free guacamole all day.
Outside the restaurant sector, there’s lots of creativity in terms of accommodating crowds of cars (or boats, as the case may be) in struggling entertainment venues or live events.
While the venerable Minnesota State Fair has been canceled, organizers are salvaging part of the experience as a drive-through amusement being promoted as “the first-ever Minnesota State Fair Food Parade.” As cars drive through familiar food stands, sampling sausages and fried dough, they’ll be entertained by trivia games and activities sponsored by the likes of Mazda.
And the pandemic time machine has other surprises, like the return of the 1950s-style drive-in movie. With movie theaters shuttered coast-to-coast for months, the nation’s small number of remaining drive-in theaters are being joined by newcomers who see future potential in the venue.
“Obviously this isn’t the way you’d want it to occur, but I’m excited for the idea that there may be a new generation of people that will get to experience going to a drive-in theater and — I was going to say catch the bug,” Andrew Thomas, the owner of Showboat Drive-In Theater in Hockley, Texas recently told the Associated Press, as quoted in PYMNTS.
On a similar note, milkshake-toting carhops are back as well. A slew of mostly independent operators have revived the groovy concept, updated for a curbside/contactless world.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Australian event outfit Beyond Cinema is readying for a weeklong aquatic film festival of sorts, where up to 24 boats, each carrying eight people, will get free popcorn and watch movies on a jumbotron from what officials deem a safe distance.
Whether it’s dusting off oldies like carhop service or watching movies in rowboats, we can expect to see more of this cleverness as malls and other spaces are repurposed for post-pandemic play.
As evidence, consider recent PYMNTS reporting on the German nightclub scene, which has reconfigured itself so that customers can mingle from inside their cars. “Vehicles park close enough together for people to interact, although staff members wander the spaces in between to make sure patrons are maintaining social distancing. Flirting takes place by people writing their cell phone numbers on balloons and holding them up to people in nearby cars.”
What’s next? Turning public garages into the new offices, where people park and spend the day working in their cars, but within safe shouting distance of team members? Don’t be surprised.