The Unexpected Trend That's Taking Over Old Fast Food Restaurants

The concept of pulling up to a drive-thru window to order a bánh mì sandwich and side of spring rolls may seem unusual, but this is how many Vietnamese restaurant owners have begun adapting to keep pace with demand, according to The New York Times. As Americans become more familiar with Vietnamese cuisine, new restaurants have begun cropping up in cities from Philadelphia to San Jose, including in areas without high concentrations of Asian American residents. In a 2018 survey of 25,000 people from 24 countries, Vietnamese was ranked the 13th most popular cuisine in the world — the top choice among 75% of Australian and 74% of French respondents (via YouGov).

Speaking with Voice of America in 2016, the owner of a chain of Vietnamese restaurants in Austin predicted that Pho – a brothy noodle dish with various assortments of vegetables, herbs, and meat — may soon become as mainstream in America as Mexican burritos, Japanese sushi, and Italian pizza. Why, though, should Vietnamese restaurant owners follow the lead of American fast food chains as they grow and expand in response to the cuisine's increasing popularity?

Vietnamese restaurants from Houston to Canada embrace the drive-thru

Along with increased demand for Vietnamese restaurants, The New York Times highlights other factors that raise the likelihood they will soon join the fast food spots clustered around interstate highway exists and fast-casual chains found in the business districts of many American cities. Drive-thru windows were adopted earliest and are used most broadly by fast food franchises, which paired with digital ordering and payments to meet the pandemic's increase in demand for restaurants that minimized person-to-person contact (via

Hughies Tavern and Vietnamese Grille, located on West 18th Street in Houston, is one of several Vietnamese spots in the city that have opened drive-thru windows. The restaurant was formerly a Dairy Queen, but owner Paul Pham told The New York Times, "We are going to shift toward more of a Chick-fil-A type of concept." Pham foresees expanding with new locations in areas outside of the city's neighborhoods that have high populations of Asian residents while using technology to streamline customer service, as many fast food restaurants have done. 

Kenny To, an owner of Canada's first Vietnamese drive-thru concept, To Me Vietnamese Sub, pointed out that transitioning towards an American-style fast food concept makes sense because many Vietnamese dishes are portable and easy to package. He said the idea for his restaurant was inspired by the convenience of ordering coffee at the Tim Hortons drive-thru.