|"The Sunday Driver"
Find an Oldies' station on the radio and cruise to Mac's
A carhop delivers burgers and onion rings in minutes:
"If you need anything, just honk."
by Barbara Stith, Staff writer, The Syracuse Post-Standard
Published Sunday, August 29, 1999
Before the drive-through restaurant came the drive-in restaurant, and it's hard to figure why they
ever went out of style.
Especially after eating lunch at Mac's Drive-In in Waterloo. You don't have to shout your order
into a microphone. You don't even have to decipher what the server is saying on a static-infected
intercom. You don't have to contend with cardboard cup holders, hamburger wrappers or plastic
pouches of ketchup.
At Mac's, eating in your car in almost fine dining.
You can't miss Mac's, just outside the village of Waterloo on the way to Geneva. The block
building is white, the awning is red and white stripes, and an American flag flies out front.
An enormous arrow with blinking lights points the way to the parking lot, and the fact that two light
bulbs are burned out only adds to the ambiance.
A cheerful car hop will be out to greet you before you've even had a chance to tune in an oldies
station on the radio. Hand-painted menus hang at intervals from the roof of what's called a ramp;
there are two ramps, and they're the long canopies where as many as 15 cars can pull in for service.
The menus spell out the basics of American cuisine in capital letters: HAMBURG $1.40,
CHEESEBURG $1.55. The priciest burger, the $2 Mac's Big Burger, is a quarter-pound
hamburger with lettuce and tomato -- none of that fancy special sauce here.
Your meal will arrive in minutes, served on a metal tray that hooks over your car window. Entrees
and side dishes, like the golden onion rings, are served on paper plates. Ketchup and mustard come
in plastic squirt bottles, the salt and pepper shakers are glass. The root beer, rich and spicy and
sweet, is served in a frosted glass mug.
"If you need anything, just honk," the car hop says.
When Mac's opened June 18, 1961, it had only tables and a counter. Within three years, the
restaurant needed to expand, says Cathy MacDougal, who owns Mac's with her husband, Gerald.
But in that location, a quarter of a mile down the road from its current spot, the only way to expand
was to add the ramps.
The front part of the restaurant still packs in patrons, who sit at tables or on the red vinyl-topped
stools that line the counter. But the drive-in remains popular, MacDougal says, "because a lot of
people just don't want to get out of their cars."
It's not a matter of laziness as much as appearance. Sometimes people take a break from working
in their garden to drive over for a quick bite to eat. Sometimes women have their hair up in curlers.
"You'll see that quite often," MacDougal says.
And sometimes people eat at the drive-in in their pajamas. "Especially the little kids," MacDougal
says. "Not too many adults."
Mac's menu has changed little over the years. "We've added a few things, the club sandwich, the
chicken sandwich," MacDougal says. "Basically it's been pretty much the same, the burgers and
fish." The restaurant has only one tap for beer, and since it started out serving Pabst, Pabst
remains the only beer on the menu.
No sense tinkering with success. "If it's not broke," MacDougal says, "we don't fix it."
The Sunday Driver likes to take his or her own sweet time traveling around Central New York,
always on the lookout for a good place to stop. If you know of a place The Sunday Driver should
check out, drop us a line. Write to CNY c/o The Syracuse Newspapers, PO Box 4915, Syracuse,
NY 13221, or fax us at 470-2111.