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Photos: This 1950s Drive-In Used Conveyor Belts To Serve Food
Los Angeles' car culture was in full bloom after the war, and the innovations that came along with an auto-centric lifestyle were also booming. No other region is more associated with drive-thru, drive-in restaurants and drive-in theaters than Southern California. And while the drive-thru restaurant has endured through the decades, the rest feel like novelties at this point. The "Motormat" is no exception.
Patented by Kenneth C. Purdy in 1948, the Motormat was designed to eliminate the need for carhops to take your order and deliver your food by having everything done via conveyor belt. The Track restaurant, originally at 8201 Beverly Blvd. in Beverly Grove, had 20 stalls utilizing this technology that were arranged around the central building like the spokes on a wheel. A metal bin on a conveyor belt served as the waiter, busboy, and server. "It saves from 30 to 50% of the time it takes you to eat at an ordinary drive-in," Purdy told The Milwaukee Journal in 1949. "You don't have to wait for a carhop, blow dust out of your food, honk for your check or wait for change."
Indeed, the process was quite comprehensive. Purdy's Motormat all but cooked the food for you, as the book Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America explains:
A customer would drive up to a window-high bin, mounted on rails, containing glasses of water, menu, pencil, and pad. He or she would then fill out the order, push a button, and send the bin scooting back to the kitchen, which lay at the center of the circular structure. While the order was being prepared, the bin would be sent back with the bill. After the bin was returned with payment, the food and change would be sent back down the rails, with no need to tip a waitress.
The top speed, by the way, of the Motormat was only 120 feet per minute, less than 1.5 miles per hour. At least that reduced the possibilities of spills!
Although the Motormat never quite took off—it's tough when you're replacing girls in rollerskates with slow robots—the novelty was enough to garner some hype. Purdy told The Milwaukee Journal that The Track sold three days worth of food to 3,000 customers on its opening day, and fed almost 40,000 mouths in its first two weeks.
The Track no longer stands where it once operated on Beverly Boulevard, down the street from what is now The Beverly Center, though the Historic Los Angeles blog points out that there once was a listing for "The Track No. 3" in Culver City, so it seems there was an expansion to at least three restaurants. The Motormat's legacy lives on, though. In 2006, a Chick-fil-a in Houston opened with a second "remote" drive-thru lane that features food delivered via conveyor belt.