FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

Speed Behind the Counter

In the 1980s, many fast-food chains began reporting that 50 percent of their daily business was conducted through drive-thru windows, which increased profit margins. Restaurants perfected and minimized steps in the ordering and assembly processes to serve as many drive-thru customers as possible, especially during the lunch rush. Fast-food companies formulated foods that could be held in one hand and easily chewed while driving.

McDonald’s drive-thru, about 2000

McDonald’s drive-thru, about 2000

Courtesy of Corbis

Register overlay, 1989

Cash register buttons programmed to specific products and options helped speed the ordering process by directly communicating orders to the people filling them. In the 1990s, computer touch screens replaced register overlays at most fast-food restaurants. Gift of McDonald’s Regional Training Center.

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On-the-go packaging, pre-1990s

Clamshell packaging made handling food products convenient and sanitary. In the late 1980s, McDonald’s and other franchises began wrapping their sandwiches in coated paper instead, after customers complained about the environmental hazards of polystyrene foam containers. Gift of Peter M. Warner.

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Sauce dispenser, 1990s

Specialized tools were designed to speed up the food-preparation process, eliminating any deviation from established portion standards. Gift of McDonald’s Regional Training Center.

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Fry scoop, 1990s

Gift of McDonald’s Regional Training Center

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