The 1950’s was a truly unique moment in time. Fresh out of WW2, the world – and North America in particular – were embracing prosperity and a strong economy, built and spurred on by the war. More and more people were able to access the finer things in life in the 50’s. The times were also a period of conflict – and therefore, of thought and reinvention. The ongoing war on communism in the United States, as well as the Civil Rights Movement, exposed a division in American society.
The world was embracing automation, efficiencies, and simplicity, all with roots in nostalgia, old school familial values, and a distinct pining for prosperity. In the retail and hospitality industries specifically, the 1950’s cemented itself as a vibrant time in consumer culture. Restaurants and eateries began to develop their own unique culture and way of doing things – all dependent on the year-to-year pulse of greater society.
Drive Through & Drive-In
The 1950’s were all about speed, ease, and sometime laziness. The Drive-In restaurant model, popularized in the southern state of Texas in the 1920’s was bussed by carhops and busboys who would serve food on trays to guests who didn’t want to leave the car. The drive-in model allowed restaurateurs to operate with fewer employees and less overhead, contributing to higher profits and more affordable food for guests.
In 1948, In-N-Out, a 100-square foot burger shack in Baldwin Park, California, introduced a drive-through model that would take the concept one step further. The first McDonald’s stand opened in 1948 and used pedestrian windows to help usher along foot traffic as an alternative to the drive-through – which they didn’t adopt until the mid 1970’s.
The speed of Drive-In’s meant that carhops and employees would soon adopt roller-skates, a quintessential signifier of the 1950’s – in order to get food to and from a customer’s car as quickly as possible.
The economic boom in North America meant that people were embracing their ability to afford the automobile. Car culture was taking off, and young teens needed a place to be seen in their muscle cars, hot rods, and shiny luxury sedans.
The first malt shops were introduced in the early 1900’s, but took on a new culture when rock and roll, car culture and food all converged in the 1950’s. The malt shop was a gathering place that primarily sold confectionary goods like candy, soda pop, ice cream and milkshakes – all speedy, inexpensive foods of excess and fun.
Fine Dining Trends
The overwhelming trends of the 1950’s are take-out, processed foods, simplicity, no clean-up, and on-the-go. This made classic restaurateurs nervous, as they realized that fewer and fewer people were doing out to dine in a traditional restaurant.
With the rise of the drive-in and drive-through models, restaurant owners found they had a growing demographic base thanks to the baby boom – but were also dealing with the rising popularity of television – colour television in particular. More and more people were choosing to eat pre-packaged casseroles and meals in front of their TV’s; the TV dinner was alive and well.
This prompted take-out as an option for classic restaurants. People would call in their orders, and pick it up to take home when it was ready. The carry-out, or take-out model was booming by the mid 1950’s – actually helping owners to increase revenue. This added service was perceived as another way to please the customer and adapt to the fast ways of life in the 50’s.
The restaurant business in the 1950’s was in a way, much like the grander society of North America. It was all about moving quickly, taking advantage of what was available with as little energy as possible, and catering to the individual customer. The 1950’s saw the overwhelming trend of convenience and efficiency emerge in kitchens and restaurants everywhere, revolutionizing the way we think of modern restaurant design. As they say: the customer is always right.