Drive-in restaurants didn’t originate in the fifties, but that decade provided their glory days. In post-war America, people were more mobile than ever before, and they had more disposable income. The idea of being served food — and not having to leave their cars — was immensely popular.
At some drive-ins, girls delivered food to customers’ cars on roller skates, others worked on foot. These girls became known as carhops, and they were featured in such nostalgic entertainments as American Graffiti and Happy Days.
The menu offered at most drive-ins seemed to center on another of America’s fixations of the fifties, the hamburger. Hamburgers, fries, root beer, and shakes. What we’d now call fast food, though ironically it was the proliferation of chain fast-food restaurants that provoked the near extinction of the drive-in.
Where I grew up, in Newport News, Virginia, our favorite drive-in was Bill’s Barbecue just across the city line in Hampton. But to be honest, I can’t remember whether or not the carhops there used roller skates. But it doesn’t matter, because the recollection of going there with my family is, to paraphrase the words of James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams, “Memories so thick I have to brush them away from my face.”
Drive-ins aren’t gone; a good number of individually owned restaurants still exist in towns all across the country. And nationally, Sonic, “America’s Drive-In” keeps the old traditions alive while adapting them beautifully for a 21st century clientele…