DC at Night

DC at Night

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Food on the Go

1st Mascots: Early Bird and Nite Owl
In 1946, the Southland Ice Company, owners of the Tote 'Em (so called because customers toted away their purchases) convenience stores in Dallas, Texas, decided to make some changes. First, they extended store hours. Those new hours would mean the stores would be open from 7 in the morning until 11 at night. Then, company officials realized the new hours called for a name change. So the Tote 'Ems became 7-11 and, with that name change, began an ensuing nationwide explosion of convenience eating and quick food buying that continues to this day.

But the 7-11 changes didn't stop there. In 1962, the 7-11 chain became the 1st such stores to stay open for 24 hours. Then, in 1975, the chain introduced what is still today one of its signature items, the slushy ice drink known as the Slurpee.
So convenient you can leave the kids in the car
The 7-11 story is just one of several detailed in the Food on the Go display, which is part of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History's exhibition Food: Transforming the American Table 1950 - 2000.

The history of cup lids
As you might expect, the growth of mobile eating paralleled the rise of the automobile as America's main means of transport. In 1950, Popular Mechanics magazine showcased what is likely the earliest automobile cup holders. Twelve years later, the Ford Falcon Futura was equipped with a glove box that opened with places to put cups if you were eating at a drive-in eatery or movie theater. Today, almost all vehicles sold are equipped with some type of cup holder.

While fast food restaurants had appeared as early as the 1920's, drive-thru dining really came of age in the 1950's in car-crazy California. That passion for mobile eating quickly led to such chains as the In-and-Out Burger and Jack-in-the-Box, which started in 1948 and 1951 respectively. The concept of ordering meals at a 2-way speaker 1st used at the Jack-in-the-Box was so new at the time that customers had to be warned that a disembodied voice (often so garbled as to be virtually unintelligible) would be speaking to them.
Check out these prices.
Of course, the largest fast food takeaway chain quickly became McDonald's, which introduced its "Speedee Service System" in its California eateries in 1948. Over the next 6 decades, McDonald's, which reports that more than 50% of its business is conducted at drive-thru windows, continues to be a leader in serving food even faster to its eaters. In the 1980's, register overlays programmed to specific products were introduced. In the 1990's computer touch screens made the check-out process even faster.

Today, food on the go operations bring in $110 billion dollars a year in the United States alone. An April 2013 study showed that there are 160,000 fast food eateries serving 50 million Americans daily.  That same study shows that 72% of all Americans eat at a fast food establishment at least once a week. Now that's a whole lot of tote 'em.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you would like to learn more about the Food exhibition at the Smithsonian, just click here.

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