Nothing is better than a burger after a long day of social distancing. So I decided to get out of the house, stretch my legs and ride my bike to McDonald’s. Our Governor had ordered that all the dining rooms at restaurants be closed because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, but drive-thrus could stay open. So, I figured I would just cycle my way to the drive-thru window. The truth is I’ve always wanted to and I thought this would be a great time to give it a shot.
Unfortunately, when I peddled up to place my order, I was greeted by a handwritten sign that said “No bikes or pedestrians allowed in the drive-thru.” I guess I wasn’t the only one who thought riding a bike through the drive-thru was a good idea. I hadn’t even considered that I wouldn’t be able to be served on my bike. Thankfully, even though the dining room was closed, there was a staff member taking orders using an iPad at the front entrance to the restaurant. They took my order and, in 3 minutes, brought my burger out to the parking lot where they could insure everyone kept a safe distance apart.
But this experience got me wondering if “no bikes in the drive-thru” is a law, or an industry-wide practice or just a local rule. I had to know, “can a bike go through a drive-thru?” So I peddled home got on the phone and called around town and I also looked at many of the fast-food restaurants’ websites and here is what I found out.
With only a few exceptions, you are NOT allowed to ride a bike or walk through most national fast-food drive-thru’s. This goes for most drive-thru banks, pharmacies and other institutions that offer drive-thru service. This is company policy, not a law in most cases. While many reasons are often cited, the one that is given most is that it is unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists to be in such close proximity to moving cars. So, It comes down to the fact that restaurants don’t want the liability of a possible accident.
The fast-food chains, I talked to on the phone, gave me a lot of reasons, other than safety, for their refusal to serve bikes in the drive-thru. There are also some notable exceptions to these rules and many alternatives if you are unable to use your bike in the drive-thru at your favorite restaurant. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Reasons for not allowing bikes in the drive-thru
Apparently corporate offices of these national chains are scared to death of being sued by a cyclist using their drive-thru. The safety concerns I was given, was that a car coming behind me might not see me because they were looking for another car, and not a bike. It would obviously be the driver’s fault in this situation, but the manager of a local Taco Bell told me that the restaurant could still be held liable for allowing the bikes. If they had a rule not allowing bikes and someone was injured they would be held harmless. (Remember, this came from a manager at a Taco Bell. As far as I know, he is not a lawyer)
I guess this makes sense from the perspective of the restaurant chain, but some of the other reasons given were a bit flimsy. Like, “It is easier to rob us if you are on a bike.” The reasoning behind this is that a car will have a license plate and would be easier to trace than a person on a bike with no license plate. I heard several variations of the same reason from different chains, including people reaching inside the window and grabbing food and taking off.
Another reason I heard a lot was that people (pranksters) on bikes will place a big order and then leave without picking up the order and leaving the restaurant to trash the food ordered. This reason, however, contradicts the second most-heard reason, bikes won’t trigger the sensor to let the employee know that someone is waiting to order.
I think, other than the safety issue, most of the excuses given for not serving bicyclists are problems that could be solved. As a matter of fact, there are some exceptions to this “no bike” rule.
Exceptions to the “No Bike in the Drive-Thru” Rule
Two notable exceptions to the “No bike” rule are…
The first, according to Denmark.DK, Copenhagen, Denmark is a very bike-friendly city. They have many dedicated bike lanes and even have exclusive bike-only highways for commuting to work and school on bicycles. One of the McDonald’s in Copenhagen even has an exclusive bike lane for their drive-thru window. This takes care of the safety issue and allows bikers to enjoy a burger on the go. This is an anomaly, but a step in the right direction for drive-thrus.
A second exception is the city of Portland, Oregon. The Oregonian, reports that restaurants must serve pedestrians and cyclists in a drive-thru if they have closed or locked the dining area of the restaurant. This means that when the fast-food chains are only offering drive-thru service (usually late at night) then they are REQUIRED, by law, to serve someone on a bike.
Alternatives to Biking in the Drive-Thru
Restaurants around the world have had to adapt their practices in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Some fast-food joints are busier during this pandemic because they were fast to make changes and they realized that all customers are important. Don’t believe me? The drive-thru line at a Chic-fil-e near me circled the building TWICE and there were at least 5 people taking walk-up and bike-up orders.
In addition to the drive-thru, many restaurants are accepting online and phone-in orders that they will bring out once you have biked to the shop. Others, like the McDonald’s I visited, will take your order from a safe distance and deliver your food from a safe distance without the need for you to enter the building or go through the drive-thru.
For those of you who don’t even want to go to the restaurant to get your food, most restaurants either have delivery staff or have partnered with the likes of UberEATS, GrubHub, and many other delivery services. Just call, or place your order online and it will be delivered. Save your biking for after dinner.
I believe that once this COVID-19 crisis has passed, many of the changes that have been made will stick around.
There is certainly a danger in waiting on your bike at the drive-thru window. I’m sure there are drivers out there who would never see you and knock you off your bike, or worse. I also see the world heading toward being more biker-friendly. As we go in that direction people will learn to look for bikers.
From the calls I made and the research I have done on the internet, I have found that there is a real desire from bikers to be able to use this service. As has been shown during the pandemic, restaurants are capable of adapting to challenging circumstances. If adapting is all that is needed bikes could be using drive-thrus soon. But, the restaurants need to be free from blame for unobservant motorists.
Let’s let the blame fall where it should when the inevitable collision occurs…on the driver. Let the large restaurant chains cater to all their customers, 4-wheel and 2-wheel alike.
Maybe I’ll try again at a different fast-food joint. The more bikes they see coming through the drive-thru, the more apt they are to make changes.
As I ramp up my riding for the year I know there will come a time when the need for energy will take me to the nearest fast food joint. When that time comes I’ll want to get in and out as fast as I can without worrying about having my bike stolen while I’m inside.
This Pandemic will pass but I hope there are some changes that stick – like allowing bikes through the drive thru.
What do you think? Should they be allowed?