Back to the Future in the Age of Coronavirus?


In desperation, small business people are doing what they can to stay solvent, to stave off government-mandated ruin. One strain of these responses has been a revival of earlier car culture. The drive-in movie and the drive-in diner suddenly have an attraction again. Consider two stories from Texas: one a family restaurant turned drive-in movie theater, and the other a community theater putting on a drive-in live performance. Consider, also, the Sonic restaurant brand.

In “Ingenuity to Beat the Ban,” Aaron Miller told the story of the Butler House restaurant, in Spring, Texas, which put up a large screen television in the parking lot and serves meals, including beer or wine, car side. Modern cars are pre-equipped to support this experience, as we have lots of cup holders. Back in the 1950’s you needed a special tray attached to the side of the car window because there was nowhere to safely put down your drink. Moreover, all cars now have FM radios, so you can even have a low power FM transmission of the audio.

This last feature has been leveraged by a live theater company in Texas. I heard the owner or manager interviewed on the Mark Davis Show this past Friday, and read the Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on Cleburne, Texas:

Artistic director JaceSon Barrus and the community group, Plaza Theatre, in Cleburne shut down their production of “Little House on the Prairie” Saturday because of the coronavirvus.

But the virus isn’t stopping them from putting on a different type of show this Saturday.

For the first time in the 13-year-old history of the company, there will be a drive-up theater production, “Nifty Fifties,” where patrons will watch and listen as they sit in their vehicles.


Barrus said the Plaza Theatre building will be the backdrop for the stage and patrons will be in the parking lot.

Patrons will listen on an FM radio station.

Social distancing will be observed by performers, but Caitlan Leblo and her husband, Josh, might be a bit closer than the others.

The show is free, but donations will be accepted.

The Plaza Theatre has a large overhand at the entrance, creating a covered stage space. The parking is immediately in front of the entrance, so should allow a small crowd to come and see the show from the bubbles of their closed cars. This is no way to stay in business, even medium term, but gets some visibility and goodwill at low cost. Hopefully, it will draw good donations from those who attend.

Restaurants, with all their employees, are hammered, with the exception of fast-food restaurants that were built for drive-through, and the few remaining drive-in restaurants, most strongly represented by Sonic. Business Wire had a piece this February on Sonic refocusing their advertising towards families:

The corresponding branded spots feature real people and follows four families from across the nation as they go about their routine in the span of “One Day,” – sans script – to capture the hilarious and heartwarming moments that happen on the way to, at and from SONIC.


SONIC, founded in 1953, is the largest drive-in restaurant brand in the United States with more than 3,500 restaurants in 46 states. Served by SONIC’s iconic Carhops, the restaurant’s expansive, award-winning menu offers unique, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack and drink options for the whole family. SONIC is part of the Inspire Brands family of restaurants. For more information, visit and

American cars have certainly changed since the 1950s, but their centrality to most Americans’ lives may allow a short revival of drive-in entertainment and food.

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 4 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Stina Member

    Clifford A. Brown: The drive in movie and the drive in diner suddenly have an attraction again.

    My FIL pointed out Hollywood may hit this one hard like they did Christmas Light shows.

    I think it is ingenious. And if Hollywood does go after this right now, I hope it is widely published in order to drive a back lash against hollywood.

    This is the kind of ingenuity that a lot of regulations stymie… such as quickly adopting a temporary delivery service or launching an occassional drive in theater in your parking lot.

    I’d like to know from actual businesses – how would you handle this epidemic if you were given free reign and what regulations prevent it?

    • #1
  2. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler

    Clifford A. Brown: American cars have certainly changed since the 1950s, but their centrality to most Americans’ lives may allow a short revival of drive-in entertainment and food. 

    Perhaps Drive-In movie critic Joe Bob Briggs will make a comeback?

    • #2
  3. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty

    Stina (View Comment):
    if you were given free reign

    Free rain.

    • #3
  4. carcat74 Member

    I told several people I wish I’d bought stock in Sonic a month ago, because I predicted their brand would become very popular during this time. A lady told me they had to eat their Pizza Hut pizza in their van while watching the constant flow of traffic at the next door Sonic.

    • #4
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.