Nothing beats the full restaurant experience: enjoying freshly cooked, well-plated food served on a dining table, linen placemats, cutlery and all. But when both indoor and al fresco dining aren’t allowed, and you’re missing that old excitement of dining out, try “drive-in dining.”
More and more car owners have been dining this way, it seems. It's a great way to keep patronizing the F&B industry which has really been badly hit by the pandemic and the changing quarantine restrictions. Banker and foodie Arthur “Art” Tanseco and his family have been doing drive-in dining for a while now. They’ve done it in Leviste St., Makati, in Molito Alabang, Burgos Eats in BGC, Forbes Town, Cross Roads, Paseo de Magallanes, and the Caltex SLEX and Shell SLEX stations.
All in the family
Dining out on weekends has been a regular bonding activity for the Tansecos for as long as they can remember. Art and wife would normally do it on Friday nights to end the workweek, or on Sundays as a treat for themselves and their three boys now aged 18, 16, and 12.
When the pandemic restrictions disallowed indoor and outdoor dining, Art’s family was ready. They just continued their dining excursions, going out once or even twice a week. They’d park in front of their restaurant of choice, order food, and dine inside their Starex.
The Tansecos are not big fans of food deliveries, according to the padre de pamilya. They want their pizza hot-off-the grill, and their tempura crisp. Plus, Art and wife Tiffin just love the sangria at Bar Pintxos, and a sangria is just best enjoyed straight from the bar and freshly mixed. Meanwhile, while the parents have their drinks, the kids have their own indulgence: tapas.
Once they arrive at their chosen restaurant, Art would usually come up to a waiter and request to be served as if they’re dining in. “When they open our Starex van, they’d realize we already have our own table set up inside, and the [waiters] would accommodate our ‘dine-in’ request,” says Art. Since the Tansecos are regulars in places like Elbert’s Pizzeria and Bar Pintxos in Makati, they don’t even need to bother making such a request anymore. “When they see our van, they know it’s us,” says Art, and the waiters proceed to make the necessary preparations.
The Tansecos have tried to ask for the same service at Tenya in Paseo de Magallanes and Wildflour Café + Bakery in BGC, and the waiters happily accommodate their request.
Many restaurants are still not used to the concept but once Art explains—basically “we park outside, you serve food in our van”—the waiters tend to oblige. That is, if the car is parked close by and it’s not much of a hassle for the resto staff to bring the food.
“Usually the resto we’re parked nearest to, yun ang nag-a-accommodate sa amin. When we’re not parked near a resto that we like, naka-takeout box kami, and that’s okay, too. The food’s still fresh,” says the father of three.
When his boys crave for burgers, the Tansecos go to 8Cuts in Salcedo Village and the Mos Burger foodtruck parked in Forbestown BGC. They also like the variety of food offerings at Tai Koo HK Roast.
Gas stations like the one on SLEX are a practical choice, says Art, because there’s always an available comfort room. Usually, in those places, the family would go to any of the restaurants that belong to the Max’s Group. The family often drives around and heads there for Sunday lunches but due to the recent surge in Covid cases, their drive-in adventures have temporarily been put to a stop.
Father and son
Getting a haircut had been Michael Meresen’s favorite bonding activity with his son Miguel, now 11, even before the pandemic. And during GCQ when barbershops were finally allowed to open, their go-to place was Bruno’s Barbers. The haircut session would usually be followed by an in-car dining treat.
Mike would often order food for pickup at nearby Ooma Sushi Bar via Food Panda, even while their haircut is ongoing. Since there’s no place to park near the resto, Mike would fetch the food himself and park beside Salcedo Park. Facing a view of the neighborhood’s trees, father and son would enjoy their in-car dining time.
Mike and Miguel would head out prepared, of course, bringing breakfast tables with them so it’s easy to dine inside the SUV or sedan. Thank goodness, too, for Ooma’s takeout-friendly containers which make their food easy to be consumed even within the limited space of a vehicle. The Meresen’s car is equipped with a TV Plus and a headrest monitor so father and son can watch TV while enjoying their meal.
When Miguel craves some McDonald’s or Jollibee, or KFC, the two would order via drive-thru, secure a parking space in the area, and munch on their takeout. It’s become easy to find a parking spot because of the pandemic, says Mike, especially paid ones.
Before the pandemic, and even when both Manila and Batangas were on GCQ status, diving instructors Joy Castillo and husband Hernel would head to Anilao for their weekly watersport gigs. Typically, on their way home to Quezon City, they would stop by Elbert’s Pizzeria on Salcedo Village to have some pizza and cheese steak sandwich. They’re also known to drive by the place whenever they visit Hernel’s folks in Parañaque.
“We’re creatures of habit. We go to the same restaurant and order the same things,” Joy shares with a laugh. Typically, they would order a takeout and eat it along the way. But when they feel like having some cheesesteak, which is not exactly very practical to eat in a moving vehicle, they would get a paid parking space near Elbert’s and dine there.
Here are a few indications that say this park-and-dine thing has become part of the Castillo lifestyle: a cooler is now a fixture in their car, loaded with their choice of drinks. And then there are the ready towels which they place on their laps to avoid dropping crumbs on the car floor.
Tina Legarda, Bamba Bistro’s chef-owner, had everything about their drive-in dining service thought out, as she shared with Tatler August of last year. They offer diners drive-in kits comprised of special trays, utensils, plates, water and glasses.
The bistro also provides a unique steering wheel attachment and a table attachment for the passenger seats and backseats which are great when dining with family. The food is well-plated, which makes the dining experience more satisfying. You may call 85197097 to order your food in advance and reserve a parking spot.
Meanwhile, Drive-By Taco Shop which serves a wide variety of Mexican fare also provides “drive and dine trays." A tray fits right into a car’s steering wheel, and diners could enjoy some semblance of an indoor meal as food is served in plates, complete with all the cutlery and condiments. The shop is open daily from 11am to 7pm. For advanced orders, call 09773489211.
Carhop services have been around for ages, and dining in cars isn’t exactly a new thing. According to a Smithsonian article, the first drive-in restaurant in the US, Kirby's Pig Stand, opened in Dallas, Texas, in 1921. The concept just hasn’t gotten popular in the Philippines yet—but that may be changing.