The In-N-Out Invention That Changed Fast Food Forever

In-N-Out is a culinary mainstay over on the West Coast. Known for its steadfast commitment to freshness (one of the reasons the burger chain won't expand eastward, according to Reader's Digest) and a famously "not-so-secret" menu, In-N-Out has entered the history books as a utopia of Double-Double burgers and animal style fries. What some fans may not realize, however, is that In-N-Out is also the birthplace of the modern-day drive-thru.

Per History, the earliest model of the drive-thru was really the drive-in. This practice can be traced back to the 1930s at the Pig Stand, a chain of Texas barbecue restaurants where customers could remain in their cars and have their food brought over by carhops. Many places, namely Sonic Drive-In, still offer this kind of service today. While customers certainly enjoyed being able to order and eat their food from the comfort of their cars, they wanted a way to get their meals even faster. In Southern California, In-N-Out founder Harry Snyder would step up to meet that demand, creating the two-way speaker box in 1948. Although neither he nor his wife and business partner, Esther, would realize it, they had just laid the foundation of a system that would revolutionize fast food forever.

How In-N-Out's invention created the modern drive-thru

History says that In-N-Out may not have been the first restaurant chain to offer a drive-thru service, but because it (formerly) had no indoor seating, no place to park, and its new speaker ordering system, it was "likely the first to offer the complete drive-thru package." According to Gear Patrol, In-N-Out was the first restaurant to introduce a two-way intercom system, enabling customers and employees to make a transaction without leaving their physical spaces. While customers at places like McDonald's could get their food relatively quickly by walking from their cars to the counter, those at In-N-Out could be handed their burgers without even having to put their cars in park.

One would imagine that, upon seeing the success of In-N-Out's speaker system, chains like McDonald's would have quickly rigged up the best communication system money could buy. Surprisingly, that wasn't the case until decades later. The first McDonald's drive-thru locations, speakers and all, opened in Dallas and Arizona in 1974 and 1975, in part as a way to serve military members who were not allowed to appear in their uniforms in public, reports AZCentral. It may have taken a few decades to catch on, but it's now hard to imagine the modern drive-thru without a speaker system.