A popular first for NJ fast food joints that started 20 years ago
Fast food joints have certainly changed a lot over the years. Not just here in New Jersey, but across the country as well.
And certain regions have their go-to's. Out west, for example, has In-N-Out Burger that's a favorite for both locals and visitors from all over the country.
As for New Jersey, White Castle is a true classic with strong Jersey roots. The bottom line is, that fast food is part of American culture and history.
The evolution of drive-thru convenience
Making it even faster is the evolution of the drive-thru. Even though fast-food restaurants have been around since the 1920s, it wasn't until much later that we'd be able to drive to a pickup window for our orders.
The 1950s began the trend of car-side dining, but it wasn't until the 1970s that fast food joints really started to invest in the drive-thru window, which pretty much paved the way for how we know it today.
But despite their popularity, drive-thru's lacked one thing that was otherwise available inside. It wouldn't be until the early 2000s that the drive-thru would also have this as an option.
Credit cards enter the world of fast food
It was In-N-Out Burger that was one of the first chains to start exploring using credit cards as a form of payment for inside the dining area. This dates back to the late 1980s and expanded through the 1990s.
However, the drive-thru remained largely off the expansion for also accepting plastic. And this was for good reason.
It largely goes in line as to why many people stuck with cash back then instead of credit. All you have to do is look at the technology of the times.
Credit cards weren't always so convenient
Phone lines and old computer connections are what were used to complete credit card transactions. This also made transactions painfully slow at times.
If you were inside the restaurant, it wasn't that big of a deal. But in a drive-thru lane, it can add quite a bit of waiting time.
Also, credit card machines weren't nearly as convenient as they are today. Point-of-sale systems, for example, simply weren't set up in a way that would make running credit cards at the drive-thru window convenient.
It wasn't until the late 1990s and early 2000s that internet and connection speeds began to get fast enough to where this would become a viable option.
Although cash was still widely used, those trends were changing. Credit was beginning to ramp up in places that previously would never have accepted it as an option in the first place.
Then finally in the early 2000s, fast-food joints started to get on board. And it all started with the golden arches.
McDonald's revolutionizes fast food — again
In late 2002, McDonald's announced that it would be introducing credit cards as a payment option beginning in 2003. And that was in part due to demand.
One of the reasons cited for this shift had to do with customers complaining about having to carry around cash to use the drive-thru. With the popularity of credit and debit cards on the rise everywhere else, the desire to carry cash was dropping.
No longer would a customer looking to use the drive-thru have to stop at the bank first to grab cash. It was a big turning point that's still proving successful 20 years later since the planned introduction in mid-2003 (although the actual roll-out occurred later than that).
Now yes, credit cards were popular even before that with fast food drive-thrus seemingly behind with offering this option. But they waited for good reason.
According to cnn.com, "Concerns about slowing up the payment process have stopped McDonald's from accepting plastic, but improved high-speed connections allow card purchases to be faster than cash payments, about five seconds a purchase, compared with 8-to-10 seconds for cash, the paper reported."
So again, the advancement in technology got to the point where credit card purchases saved more time than paper transactions. It was a big deal for the drive-thru lane and allowed fast food joints to efficiently offer a payment option that customers demanded.
Remember when we had to sign for every credit purchase?
Another big change for credit cards at fast-food drive-thrus was the elimination of a signature. According to cnn.com, "Customers will not be required to sign for the purchase, just as at many gas stations that" allowed it at the time.
The likelihood of credit card theft was also quite low for fast food, which further contributed to the decision to move forward with plastic at the drive-thru. Shortly after, other big chains such as Burger King and Wendy's announced their own plans to introduce credit cards at their drive-thru windows.
Now, 20 years later since the planned roll-out, it's hard to imagine a drive-thru not allowing credit cards as payment. In fact, it's more believable if a fast food joint decided to ban cash payments at the drive-thru window.
As for which locations are the most efficient? There are a few that stand out. Not just with credit card transaction speed, but at the drive-thru in general.
These 4 Fast Food Restaurants Have the Fastest Drive-Thrus
Gallery Credit: Kelsee Pitman
As for New Jersey, speed is everything, and keeping that drive-thru line moving quickly is a must. With such high-speed connections today, credit cards are by far a preferred payment to get your food and be on your way as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, despite how fast the transaction can be, there are still customers who cause delays for the rest of us. Here are just a few of those examples at the drive-thru.
8 Things You Should Never Do In A Drive-Thru
Gallery Credit: Andi Ahne
The 6 Best Fast Food Chains With Plant-Based Options on the Menu
The above post reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 Sunday morning host Mike Brant. Any opinions expressed are his own.