My wife and I have a set routine after landing back at Gatwick. We collect our bags, clear customs and are reunited with our car (Meet and Greet parking is by far the best value for money and avoids an hour or so of inhaling a mini-cab’s ‘vehicle deodoriser’). Then we head for the McDonalds ‘Drive-thru’ restaurant next to the BP garage, where Joanna normally goes for the Big Mac meal, while I vacillate between the McChicken sandwich and a bucket of chicken nuggets with a side order of fries.
We look forward to this guilty secret so much that often we discuss our order in detail while queuing at passport control. Whatever we choose fills us up and is a marked improvement on what you can buy on-board. It is also immeasurably more interesting than those boxes BA now hand out towards the end of a long-haul flight containing a stale bagel and tiny slice of processed cheese.
But what we really like about it is the drive-through element — or, rather, drive--thru. It makes us feel just a little more contemporary — because if you hadn’t noticed, drive-thrus are suddenly springing up all over the place, though we will surely never take them to our hearts quite so readily as they do in America.
It wasn’t until 1985 that Europe’s first drive-thru (a McDonald’s, obviously) opened: at the Nutgrove Shopping Centre in Dublin of all places. But the history of drive-thrus is a little contentious. According to the writer Michael Karl Witzel, they were first ‘tested’ in America as far back as 1931 by the Texas Pig Stand chain. Most people, though, regard the official start date as 1947, courtesy of the Red’s Giant Hamburg joint in Springfield, Missouri on the famous Route 66.
I have no idea how many we now have in the UK, but a few weeks ago on the way back from Scotland we chanced upon drive-thru heaven at the Wolviston services just off the A19 near Middlesbrough in County Durham.
There we found not just a McDonald’s drive-thru, but also a Costa drive-thru and a KFC drive-thru. Such is the intense competition between the three of them that customers are treated royally. I personally can vouch for the cheery young woman who took our order at the Costa. ‘Why not add a touch of the exotica to your coffee today?’ she said, and seemed genuinely disappointed when we stuck to two flat whites.
Drive-thrus are intriguing. Just in case some readers are unfamiliar with them, here is how they work. Normally you stop at a microphone and a mystery voice asks what you want. You give your order and proceed to a window where you pay, and then collect your goodies at another window. The important thing is to have your order ready. Don’t procrastinate, because that’s annoying for the people in the vehicle behind — and go big on your ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’, which might just result a few complimentary tubs of ketchup.
Drive-thrus are fast and efficient — and they make you feel like you’re on a road trip in California. In my opinion, they should be approached with enthusiasm and a never--mind-the-calories sort of attitude.