McDonald’s drive-thru: Why menu was stripped to 9 items in ‘speedy service gamble’

This week McDonald’s announced all 1,000 of its UK and Ireland stores will reopen for drive-thru and delivery on June 4, as it returns to trading after the coronavirus lockdown. The restaurants will incorporate new security measures, such as a £25 spend limit, a limited menu over reduced hours, and will encourage customers to pay via contactless. The American fast-food giant is now the world’s largest restaurant chain by revenue, serving 69 million customers a day, but just years after it was founded in 1940 in San Bernardino, California, its owners took a huge risk in opening the first drive-thru service.

It was revealed during the History Channel’s ‘Modern Marvels’ series how the restaurant industry was at a standstill in the Forties, until McDonald’s came up with a revolutionary idea.

The narrator said in 1995: “The industry needed a new system to get family business back into their restaurants.

“It found the answer in San Bernardino, California, it was the brainchild of a couple of brothers from New England – Maurice and Richard McDonald.

“In 1948, the McDonald brothers decided to take a gamble on this completely new concept.”

John Love, the author of 1986 book ‘McDonald’s, behind the Arches’ revealed exactly how things were changed on their menu.

He said: “The McDonald’s brothers had a drive-in very much like all the other restaurants that existed in California in the early Forties.

“It was a unique shape, it was an octagon, but it also had all these carhops (waiters).

“They did something that few business operators dream of doing, they took a drive-in that was making $100,000-a-year (£81,000) for them, net.

“They totally shut down their restaurant, they took the menu down from 35 items, down to just nine items.

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“That was totally new and by 1952, from this little hamburger stand, these guys were doing $350,000 (£272,000) in revenue a year, that was unheard of.”

The narrator summed up what the innovative idea meant for McDonald’s.

He continued: “This new restaurant was a self-serve drive-in that turned the customers into carhops.

“It was essentially a walk-up window that promised a limited menu of fresh and tasty inexpensive food served at extreme speed.”

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