The Villainous Drive-Through


The drive-through was first pioneered in the United States in the 1930s according to Wikipedia.  Though the first deployment of the drive-through was at banks, they eventually became a staple of the layout for fast food restaurants.

We all have some experience with drive-through service.  With fast food, the drive-through seems to be commensurate with the notion of a quick transaction.  That is probably the case with banking as well.  I have seen signs at bank drive-up windows requesting patrons come inside if their transaction extends beyond a simple deposit or payment.

Where I feel the drive through is taking the notion of a “quick” out of the experience is with specialty food and beverage outlets like Starbuck’s as an example.  (I must declare that I am very much a fan of Starbucks and the “third place” experience that has become so popularized by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.)

I have many experiences while in line inside a Starbucks or other specialty food / beverage retailer and listening to an order being taken for a car in the drive-through lane. To my knowledge there is no formal protocol for restricting drive-though orders to the simple and mundane. If there were, very few orders would qualify for it.  In almost all cases, the car pulls up to the window and sits there while each drink of the order is custom prepared.  The cars behind can do nothing but wait – even if all the next person wants is a “quick” cup of coffee or tea.

The problem with drive-throughs in such an environment is that it fails to serve on the idea of being quick.  In the fast food business, nearly every item on the menu is prepared in advance and ready to go (with limited allowances for special orders) or the assembly line is so methodical that by the time you drive around to the pick-up window you order is bagged and ready for you with very little, if any, wait at all.  It is designed for convenience AND expediency.  With a specialty coffee house and the like, nothing is prepared before it is ordered and you sit in your car.  This raises the question of exactly what is it that drive-thoughs aim to achieve in these types of places if they do nothing to expedite the transaction?  The only thing I can think of is perceived convenience.  We now no longer need to get out of our vehicles. If we get stuck behind a car placing a complicated order when all we want is a cup of coffee, well, that happens inside the store too.  Here is where the villainous part comes in.

While sitting in a Starbucks the other day, I saw a small pick-up leave the drive-through window.  The driver was, (how can I be delicate?) noticeably obese.  I know there is no direct connection to drive-through use and obesity.  What did resonate with me is simply another element of our society that exists in support of sedentariness – and with that there is a correlation to obesity.

If I had one wish come true today it would be that we collectively re-evaluate our attachment to solutions we perceive as  more convenient without considering the behaviors such solutions evoke – especially when we realize that the alternative (such as walking 30 – 50 feet from our cars) is not really a huge inconvenience in the scheme of things.

As many of us often feel harried, I understand the desire to take time-saving steps thoughout the day.  And when we stop to notice what is saving us time and what is merely saving us from moving our bodies, we are best served to be wiser in our choices of when to use deployments of new design and when not to.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcome.

Thanks for reading. Have a Great Day!

Matt G.

About Matt Gorman

Life-long learner. Collaboration enthusiast. Avid cyclist.
This entry was posted in Behavioral Influence, Design, Health and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Villainous Drive-Through

  1. Ordinary Bob says:

    I rarely use a drive through. I guess I rarely eat at fast food joints. My favorite observation about sedentary people is when I see people driving in circles to find a parking spot close to a store entrance. Even when the parking lot is at the gym.

    • Matt Gorman says:

      I agree. Have the same experiences myself. I park my car further away from an entrance and while walking towards the door I see someone who pulled into the lot ahead of me still waiting for someone they saw walking towards their car in a closer spot. This is exactly the opposite of expediency seeking.

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