The Return of the Drive-In: How Venues Are Combining Contactless Entertainment with Contactless Dining

One thing we’ve learned during the pandemic is that the human urge to get out and enjoy special experiences with other human beings is a strong one.

After the coronavirus struck, it wasn’t long before enterprising individuals and businesses began looking for new ways to allow us to all be human together—while apart. In today’s world, with technology advancing in leaps and bounds, such a thing should be easy, right?

But the answer didn’t turn out to involve reaching into the future of technology so much as it involved embracing the technology of a more innocent time. The answer did not involve advanced virtual reality. The answer didn’t involve holograms. The answer was there all along in the disused cars in our driveways, in the vast, deserted parking lots of COVID-closed businesses, and in nostalgic movies about the 1950s. The answer was the Drive-In.

But as more and more venues embraced this retro concept, it became clear that movies aren’t the only events that might be driven into. Here are just a few of the more adventurous forays into the world of automotive entertainment in the age of COVID.

Classic drive-in

Of course, the first iterations of this trend were focussed mostly on recreating the classic experience of enjoying a good movie from the comfort of your car. Most notably, perhaps, Walmart recently announced that it would begin hosting family drive-in movie nights in the parking lots of select stores across the country.

The UK is also on board with the drive-in revival with venues popping up in places like Blenheim Palace in London, and Warwick Castle in Warwick where movies like Grease, The Blues Brothers, and Dirty Dancing can be enjoyed with a medieval backdrop.

Live entertainment

But a dark theater and a flickering movie screen aren’t the only type of entertainment that’s gone away since the beginning of the COVID restrictions. A wide variety of live entertainment opportunities have also been lost, and the drive-in concept is helping to bring those back as well. Live drive-in concerts have quickly become a thing throughout the country, with events popping up in locations from New Hampshire to Missouri to Phoenix and everywhere in between.

Other venues have added live acts, from musicians to magicians to comedians and beyond, as lead-in acts to augment the drive-in movie experience. In Richardson, Texas, you can find a drive-in cabaret that has given over 35 artists much-needed employment over the past several months while also providing much-needed entertainment to a quarantine-weary public.

A bit of culture

And what about those of us who enjoy the simple pleasures of a fine art exhibit? Toronto can now boast the world’s first drive-in art experience with “Gogh by Car,” a new iteration of the immersive Van Gogh exhibit that places guests (14 cars at a time) within huge light projections of Vincent Van Gogh’s artworks, such as Sunflowers and Starry Night.

Other unconventional drive-in experiences across the country include such unique offerings as a drive-in military aviation museum in Virginia Beach, where visitors can drive through a display of some of the largest items in their collection. There’s also a drive-through zoo and safari experience at Six Flags Great Adventure, featuring 1200 exotic animals all viewed from behind safely rolled-up windows.

Who’s hungry?

The movie wasn’t the only attraction of the classic drive-in theater, and that’s true of these modern descendents as well. Any entertainment experience can be made even better with the addition of a little food and drink, and it’s here, as well as in the ticketing and payment process, where modern technology lends a helping hand.

Many of the above-mentioned attractions offer the opportunity for good eats and drinks to be ordered and delivered contactlessly via handheld devices using technology like OneDine’s, allowing guests to scan a QR code to check in, view digital menus, order, and pay, all without the need for an app.

As COVID-19 continues to surge and ebb around the globe, it’s venues and events like these that will allow us all to more easily hang onto that added bit of humanity that comes from getting out of the house and enjoying a shared experience with other human beings. Even if that experience must remain within the confines of the family car.