The Pandemic Is Reviving the Drive-In Restaurant

Welcome to Appetizers, OpenTable’s column that aims to uplift and motivate with a taste of the most inspiring food-world news of the moment. Discover the things that are making us laugh, cry, think, and just plain hungry for more.

Making us … want to go for a drive 

With diners hungry for unique experiences (and, frankly, a reason to leave the house!) and restaurants searching for new revenue streams, some spots are taking inspiration from the past: the drive-in restaurant. In Los Angeles, Naples pizzeria import Pizzeria da Michele has converted the restaurant’s parking lot into a mini drive-in movie theater, with servers delivering pizza and drinks directly to cars while indie movies play. Coach Meeting House in Oyster Bay, NY has a similar drive-in movie and dinner options. And in Nashville, Indian street food restaurant 615Chutney went back to its roots as a food truck, launching “curbside dining,” where servers will deliver orders directly to diners’ vehicles on trays that attach to car windows. The trend isn’t limited to full-service spots: According to the Los Angeles Times, fast casual operators like Sweetgreen and Chipotle are prioritizing drive-thrus for new openings.

Making us … contact our representatives 

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for restaurants: At the beginning of February, President Joe Biden announced that he would include $25 billion in restaurant relief as part of a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that’s expected to pass in the coming weeks. The funds — distributed via grants — would help restaurants support payroll, benefits, mortgage, rent, utilities, supplies like PPE, and more. But restaurants need all the help they can get, and separately, a group of bipartisan members of Congress are still advocating for the more robust RESTAURANTS Act, which would dedicate a necessary $120 billion to continued aid for the industry. Help them out by sending a pre-written letter to your local representative.

Making us … hungry to try all the pop-ups

Working in restaurants doesn’t afford much down time, so when millions of hospitality professionals found themselves out of work, it was only natural that they’d find ways to channel their creative energies. Several months laters, new ventures have launched, but you won’t find them in storefronts — you’ll find them on Instagram. Now diners can connect directly with the next generation of bakers, cooks, and sommeliers, picking up Eastern European food from apartments in Brooklyn, roti from shared kitchens in Los Angeles, or taking online wine classes. The solutions show the incredible ingenuity and drive of restaurant workers.

Making us … read something in print 

When writer Klancy Miller announced her intention to create a food magazine that centered exclusively around Black women and femmes in the culinary world — the first of its kind — there was an immediate outpouring of support. After a year of crowdfunding through IndieGoGo, Patreon, and online bake sales, the inaugural issue of For the Culture has landed, featuring culinary historian Dr. Jessica B. Harris on the cover. Sent to supporters first, those new to the party can now pick up a copy via the magazine’s website.

Making us … hit follow

Previous Appetizers

January 15: Restaurants Are Creatively Using Empty Hotel Rooms as Private Dining Spaces

December 16: Restaurateurs Push Back on Dining Restrictions

November 13: Restaurant Holiday Takeout Is Next-Level This Year