The Revolutionary Way Wendy's Changed Fast Food Culture

Fast food is a style of cooking that is destined to breed innovation. There are always new ways for business owners and operators to make things better. Whether that's making customer experiences easier and faster, or making foods taste better, there's always room for improvement.

The Atlantic claims that some of fast food's most important innovations include the Egg McMuffin, which introduced fast food breakfasts, Burger King's Chicken Fries, and the KFC Double Down that did away with buns in favor of fried chicken breasts.

Nelson-Miller reports that fast food restaurants are continuing to innovate with new technologies such as touch screen ordering systems in their restaurants. These allow a restaurant to take multiple orders at once, require fewer employees, and make complicated, custom orders more accurate.

Probably no dining innovation is more synonymous with fast food service though than the ubiquitous drive-thru window. There are a number of restaurants that claim to be the ones who invented the idea, but Wendy's was certainly one of the first to truly find success thanks to the innovation.

Wendy's was first to go big on drive-thrus

Most folks know Wendy's for its red-headed mascot, square burger patties, and tasty chocolate Frosty, but the chain was also one of the most successful adopters of the drive-thru window, and it claims to be the first. 

According to Wendy's, the original location was opened by founder Dave Thomas in Columbus, Ohio in 1969. A year later, the franchise would introduce what it claims to be "the first modern drive through," though Thomas decided to call this architectural innovation the "pick-up window." It even featured instructions on how to place an order using the remote speaker and microphone system it utilized. 

This innovation likely played a huge role in Wendy's meteoric success. Culinary Lore claims that Wendy's would open 1,800 locations in its first ten years of operation, and made sure to install a pick-up window in every single one of them. Wendy's may owe its success to its widespread adoption of the drive-thru window, but it was far from the first to make use of the concept.

Others claim to have invented the drive-thru

Culinary Lore points out that there are several restaurants that claim to be the first drive-thru. Some of these claims even go as far back as 1921. The first viable claim to the drive-thru's invention belongs to the Texas restaurant the Pig Stand in 1931. History says that most of the restaurant's locations worked as drive-ins, meaning that customers were served meals in their cars, and would stay there to eat as well. A Los Angeles-based Pig Stand though seems to be the first to hand the meal off to passengers for them to enjoy the food at home.

Love Food adds that while other versions of the drive-thru and drive-in would pop up throughout the years, the next big innovation came from In-N-Out Burger. The west coast chain would introduce the two-way speaker in 1948. From there, many more restaurants would follow and even attempt to build around the drive-thru concept including Jack in the Box (via Mental Floss). However, Culinary Lore points out that Burger King and Jack in the Box would both give up on the concept over the years in favor of more traditional dining options.