Fast-Food Locations Are Planning Walk-Up Windows

Joel Eisenberg

Fast-food walk-up windows have been around on a limited basis nationwide for years, but the recent resurgence of interest in the model is based, in part, on pandemic repercussions.
Chipotle Walk-Up WindowShutterstock

Author’s Note

This article is based on corporate postings and accredited media reports. Linked information within this article is attributed to the following outlets:,, and


Since the early days of fast food restaurants, drive-through — also known as “drive-thru” — windows were common. See Wikipedia entry on the matter here, which states: Drive-throughs have generally replaced drive-ins in popular culture, and are now found in the vast majority of modern American fast-food chains. Sometimes, a store with a drive-through is referred to as a "drive-through", or the term is attached to the service, such as, "drive-through restaurant". or "drive-through bank". Drive-throughs typically have signs over the drive-through lanes to show customers which lanes are open for business. The types of signage used is usually illuminated so the "open" message can be changed to a "closed" message when the lane is not available.

Historically, however, the same courtesy has not typically been accorded to those who have “walked up” to a window. As Wikipedia states on the matter: Pedestrians sometimes attempt to walk through the drive-through to order food after the seated section of a fast-food restaurant has closed. Many establishments refuse drive-through service to pedestrians for safety, insurance, and liability reasons.

The times, though, are changing, and so-called “walk-through” — also known as “walk-thru” or “walk-up” — windows are becoming increasingly common.

What has changed?

Let us explore.

Walk-Up Windows, 2022

Walk-up windows have actually been around on a limited basis for several years. As trade site states, in their piece entitled “Chipotle Mexican Grill Tests Adding Walk-Up Windows to Existing Locations”: New restaurants for Chipotle Mexican Grill will very likely include a drive-thru Chipotlane or potentially a walk-up window to speed throughput and add convenience. Now the fast-casual chain is looking at converting existing units to drive sales with these margin-boosting features.

The elaboration for the reasoning is something likely to be scrutinized by similar chains. As further excerpted: “We started thinking about locations that can’t accommodate a Chipotlane, where there’s not the space for it. These are urban, but have a lot of foot traffic,” she said. “Generally, those units in an urban environment are spaces that are physically smaller, longer, or with narrower storefronts. So we thought what if we added walk-up windows, like a human lane, if you will, so if you were a customer that used the app and ordered ahead, you had no reason to go inside the restaurant, particularly those smaller footprints where you might find some congestion.”

It should be noted in late-2019, a Chicago Chipotle location successfully tested the walk-up window, which is featured as the lead photo in this article.

In “The Resurgence of the Restaurant Walk-Up Window,” credits the pandemic for the renewed interest in the model: Prior to running a business squarely focused on burgers and fries, the McDonald’s brothers served slow-cooked barbecue utilizing carhops to service customers who drove into the parking lot. Upon realizing that the majority of their sales came from beef patties and understanding the importance of speed for profit, they shifted focus. “They reduced their menu to a few items and eliminated carhops, so customers had to walk up to an outside window to order their food,” explains food historian and author Andrew F. Smith in his book “Eating History: 30 Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine.”

It is also explained that the walk-up window was popularized throughout Southern California in the late 1940s and 1950s.

So, as to the recent thought process behind the efficacy of such windows during the pandemic period: When restaurants were temporarily closed, service would remain available for those locations that adapted.


Whether an individual owns a car or does not, the walk-up window may well be a model whose time has come… permanently.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA

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