Talk about a retro revival: The old-school Steak ‘n Shake restaurant chain brought back its long-dormant car-hop service, along with a Route 66 shield painted onto the pavement to designate a picnic section.
The move comes at a time when outdoor dining is safer and fosters social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Huntsville Business Journal reported some details about the revival:
Going all in on their roots, customers will pull into a designated car hop parking space denoted by signs of a 45 RPM phonograph record. Using the mobile app, customers place their order, select “Car Hop”, and enter the color and make of their vehicle. They can even pay for their order using the app.
A server will deliver the food on a tray and attach it to the car window, just as they did for decades in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.
Guests can enjoy their meal in the car or enjoy their food at a socially distanced umbrella-covered picnic tables denoted by an oversized red, white and blue Route 66 sign – a nod to the original Steak ‘n Shake location.
Pat Bremer, who lives in the Indianapolis area, and other Midwest roadies in mid-July observed the Route 66 signs being painted in Steak ‘n Shake parking lots and wondered what the heck was going on.
News releases from the company finally confirmed what those stencils were all about. Here’s the car-hop announcement on Facebook:
The company’s vice president, Steve May, said bringing back car-hop service is a safer and fun way to enjoy a meal:
“The Steak ‘n Shake parking lot was the place to be on a Saturday night in the 1950s, with carhops buzzing in between rows of cars filled with families, couples on dates, and teenagers. Today’s pandemic world has enabled us to revitalize the drive-in experience with renewed purpose. Our modern version of the drive-in not only reinforces those early days with delivery right to your car – but it also fits perfectly into today’s reality, offering our guests a way to enjoy dining out of the house while still protecting their family’s health.
“The relaunch of our drive-in service allows us to bring the legacy of our brand to life in an unforgettable way. Ultimately, the return of the car hop allows us to do what we do best – serve customers in a fun way for a memorable dining experience.”
As mentioned, Steak ‘n Shake was founded in 1934 by Gus Belt along U.S. 66 in Normal, Illinois. (Steak ‘n Shake no longer exists in that spot.) The chain contains about 600 locations, mostly in the Midwest. Its steakburgers, milkshakes and chili mac supremes remain a favorite for quite a few folks of a certain age.
The chain, however, was in deep financial trouble a year ago, and the effects of COVID-19 aren’t helping. Perhaps this retro strategy is the recipe for a turnaround.
Regardless, Gary Leonard and his well-run and well-preserved Steak ‘n Shakes in Springfield, Missouri — including one on the National Register of Historic Places along Route 66 — insisted he’s not going anywhere. He stated his restaurants are independently franchised and “will be open for a long time into the future.”
(Image of the Route 66 shield at a Steak ‘n Shake in Indiana courtesy of Pat Bremer)