Creative Uses for the Drive-Thru Abound

"Hi, I'd like to order one civil ceremony, a photograph and two T-shirts, please."

"Would you like a flower for the bride with that?"


"OK, please drive around to the window."

A drive-thru wedding chapel may sound far-fetched, but it's a concept that's very much alive in places like Las Vegas.

In fact, it's just one of many creative uses of the drive-thru these days.

In suburban areas especially, the drive-thru has expanded way beyond fast-food chains: drive-thru liquor stores, dry cleaners, pharmacies, convenience stores and coffee shops are popping up with increasing frequency.

"We're moving into a drive-thru culture because time is money. We feel like we're cash-rich and time-poor," said consumer trends expert Marian Salzman, the strategy director of the marketing network EuroRSCG.

Texas boasts the most drive-thru liquor stores in the country. And despite legal controversy for drinking-and-driving-related reasons, they have also popped up in Maryland, Louisiana, Arizona and Hawaii, to name a few.

The business of drive-thru coffee shops, which are often Mom and Pop operations, are likely to start buzzing too, since Starbucks recently announced it was adding the feature to some stores.

Walgreen's was the first chain to build drive-thru pharmacies more than 11 years ago, but others like CVS and Rite Aid have latched onto the idea too.

"They're very popular," said Walgreen's spokeswoman Carol Hively. "If you have sick children or an elderly [patient] you need to pick up medicine for, or if you're sick yourself and don't feel like getting out of the car … It's faster to go through the drive-thru."

How do these car-friendly stores work? Basically just like the ones people have been using for years to order Big Macs and Whoppers in a hurry.

"We want to be able to do everything while we're mobile," Salzman said. "We're on the road, want to get a lot done and feel cramped for time. Cars have become our home away from home."

Salzman said she envisions the day when clothing stores, video rental shops, supermarkets and newsstands all offer a drive-thru option.

"We're living in a world of enormous to-do lists," she said. "You have a better chance of selling stuff to people when you push it through the car window."

Perhaps the most interesting drive-thrus are the wedding chapels and even a casino or two where gamblers can place sports bets from their cars dotting Sin City.

Places like Vegas' Chapel of Love, with its "Say I Do Drive-Thru," are for couples wanting to tie the knot fast, behind the wheel. They come decked out in marriage attire, drive to the window to order a ceremony (civil, Christian, etc.) and extras (flowers for the bride, photographs, T-shirts). Then an ordained minister leans out and performs the nuptials, which take about 10 minutes.

"So many people come here and feel leery about the wedding ceremony thing in the chapel it's more comfortable for them to sit in the car and have it done," said Tiffani Floyd, an accountant at the chapel. "Some of them really get a kick out of it."

Skeptics would argue there should be limits on drive-thru mania and the wedding chapels are a perfect example of a trend run amok. After all, wouldn't getting married at a window cheapen the event?

"People do come in with that perception they think it's cheap, think it's a mockery," Floyd said. "But once they're here and the officiate performs the ceremony, that validates it. It is a serious thing, and it's legal."

She said 35 percent of the 4,000 annual Chapel of Love marriage ceremonies happen at the drive-thru.

Many couples are vacationing in Vegas and decide spur-of-the-moment to get hitched. Others have wed before and want something different. A few are disabled. One couple drove up in an enormous camper, pets and children in tow.

Floyd said she's also heard numerous requests for the antithesis of a drive-thru wedding.

"So many people come and say, 'Is there a drive-thru divorce?'" she said. "I haven't seen one yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if I did."