The rise of the automobile in the 1920’s also gave rise to the roadside drive-in and diner. Thousands of stands, drive-ins, and diners that catered to motorists popped up all over the country, reaching its zenith in the 1950’s and continuing strong through the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The drive-in became a place to meet, to be seen, and to show-off your wheels. The scene became immortalized in American culture when it was portrayed in the movie American Graffiti, the spin-off television series Happy Days, and the hugely popular musical (and still being performed somewhere) Grease – starring Olivia Newton John and John Travolta.
But then came White Castle, McDonalds and a slew of competing corporate fast-food franchises. Fast food did not offer a dining and gathering experience like drive-ins, rather, it was place where travelers were offered quick access to hamburgers, fried chicken, and French fries – fare that was familiar to Americans, cheap, and quick to prepare. Convenience, price and speed ruled the highways for the next 4 decades, putting most of the classic drive-ins out of business.
Today, the diner and drive-in is experiencing a resurgence. The shunning of unhealthy fast food concoctions by many Americans has given rise to new breeds of restaurants. On one hand, the Panera Breads and Chipotles of the world are giving consumers a new corporate destination where they get fast, healthier food in a dine-in experience. The drive-ins and diners, on the other hand, are reinventing their menus to offer more healthful and homemade menu items, while still offering the original classic fare of juicy hamburgers, grilled hot dogs, and thick milk shakes and root beer floats. The hugely popular television show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (fans affectionately call it the “Triple D”), takes a cross-country tour of these classic destination restaurants, highlighting their homemade regional fare and the unique, down-home experiences that these restaurants offer.
We think it’s time for you to re-visit the diner and drive-in, and see why good, home-cooked food and a classic American experience is making a comeback. Don’t forget the root beer float!