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‘Where does the food go?’ Advice for anyone who’s new to carhopping

Luca Zafferano serves a customer their order at L'Antica Pizzaria da Michele in Hollywood.
Luca Zafferano serves a customer their order at L’Antica Pizzaria da Michele in Hollywood.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

If carhops are your weekly bread and butter, you won’t need this guide. But if you’re new to drive-in dining, these tips may help you master it.

Roll down your window.

During a visit to Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank, my server and I laughed as I struggled to lower my Prius’ automatic window to the correct height. “A little higher,” she urged. “No, no, that’s too high! Now a little lower.” When my window was about three inches high, she hooked the tray onto it and provided me with a QR code for the menu.

Restaurant owners, some of whom were unfamiliar with the dine-in-car format, have turned to the carhop model as a safe, socially distanced option for surviving the pandemic’s effects on an industry surviving on razor-thin margins.

Get comfy and settle in.

On an excursion to another drive-in, I scrunched into my husband’s Jetta. We were divided by a gear shift, which was probably less romantic than 65 years ago, when couples could snuggle together on the cushy bench seat of a 1955 Chevy Bel Air.

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Best advice? Streamline your space before dining in-car, eliminating clutter, clearing cup holders, and pushing back the seats. If you have a hatchback or a truck, you can set up some blankets and pillows in the back and make it your dining space. Just remember to bring a jacket or two.

Where does the food go?

When your food is delivered, you might hesitate. Do you keep it on the tray? Or balance it on your lap? A Bob’s manager said most diners take the food off the tray; some customers hold on to everything, and others use the tray liner as an apron of sorts.

At L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, servers instruct diners in the peculiar Tetris of two large pizza boxes in one front seat. “First, you unfold your pizza box,” a server told my husband. “You place the top lid on her lap, and then she uses it to put her pizza box on.”

Michele Rubini slices a pizza for an order at L'Antica Pizzaria da Michele in Hollywood.
Michele Rubini slices a pizza for an order at L’Antica Pizzaria da Michele in Hollywood.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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Check, please.

At Bob’s, after devouring my double cheeseburger and fries to the sounds of a Stray Cats album, I sat impatiently waiting for my check. But wisdom differs on proper carhop etiquette; some drive-ins, like Astro Diner, urge guests to honk when they’re done, while Bob’s asks diners to wait for a server to come around. You can always ask about the protocol when your food is delivered.


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