While other restaurant drive-ins have evaporated with time, Sonic has managed to stick around. The blast from the past is known for its marketing and nostalgic setup. It has been serving in close to 3,500 locations across 47 US states. The American drive-in fast-food restaurant chain follows ‘sonic’ service, but despite its colourful history, there are many interesting facets of the drive-in that demand a top 10. So you grab your spot in the shade and wait for the next carhop while we dive into the list.
10. Quest for identity
The drive in’s arrangement is as much unique in today’s times as its interesting history. Founded by Troy Smith in the 1950s, the American drive-in was originally a root beer stand. Yes that’s right. It established base in Oklahoma and at the time, Smith was also dabbling into many steakhouses and diners next to the stand. As soon as the guy found out about the existence of an intercom system at a restaurant, he took the opportunity to give an upgrade to his stand, with a car to kitchen intercom system as well. Turns out, the stand was garnering more profits than his other restaurants, because of which Smith decided to give all his attention to the stand itself, shutting doors to other restaurants in the process.
At the time, the name of the stand was “Top Hat” and Smith wanted to keep it that way during its expansion. He found out that the name was trademarked and because of that, he had to come up with something else. Hence Sonic, as it matched with their slogan, “service with the speed of sound.” Sure keeping the name you love is what you want and losing it to someone else is a bummer. But hey Sonic sounds cool too and the chain has made a niche for itself ‘faster’ than a certain hedgehog with speed can spell his name. Since its inception and growth, we all now are familiar with the layout of the Sonic chain. In case you want to visit the massive base of the restaurant, Oklahoma city is the way to go. It comes complete with drive-in and dine-in facilities and is a sight to behold.
9. Meals on wheels
When we go by a Sonic, we can come across carhops whizzing by, serving meals and doing it with a smile. Carhopping adds to the ambient setting of the chain and sets it apart from other restaurants in that context. It is impressive how the skaters balance a tray of burgers, slushies and snacks, all the while avoiding obstacles in their path. Also carhops skating endeavors depend on the Sonic location. In some, there is a special skate training, while in others, you are expected to hop on those wheels as if they were part of your feet. With the intercom system and your meals served on wheels, it seems Sonic follows the “speediness” aspect of its name quite seriously. Infact carhop is part of the identity of what the chain stands for, which is “fast service.”
The skills of carhops are impeccable that Sonic has partnered with Dr. Pepper and give opportunity to skaters to take part in a competition, held every year. The prize money is that of $1500 and an all-expense paid trip to the annual Sonic National Convention. These carhops sure have serious speed underneath their wheels and a whole lot of talent. Also the chain is on a hiring spree every now and then for potential carhops to become a part of their restaurants. So in case you have a flair for serving with style, balance, coordination, strong memorization skills and in need of a job, time to fill up those application forms as your that ideal candidate.
8. Rise of the drinks
Sonic drive-in doesn’t just give you carhopper service and the usual fast food items you usually find at other chains as well. It specializes in drinks as well and boy these drink’s sole purpose is not just to chug all those burgers down. They are a force to be reckoned with. You may think of them as the usually pops your order at a McDonalds or a KFC to give yourself a breather from your food indulgences. But that’s where Sonic proves you wrong. When it comes to customizing drinks and being creative, they take it to the next level.
Drinks like frozen lemonades, iced tea, and pops are part of the menu, but they occupy a small space on it, if compared to all the vast library of drinks as the chains disposal. Heck whatever drink you grab, you can be creative and add different flavors to it. Real fruit can be mixed in with lemonades or a slushy loaded with candy. The restaurant serves more than 1.5 million drinks and boasts 1,68,000 + combos and that just shows how many drinks can be concocted. With so many options on the menu, its easy to get overwhelmed. Worry not as you can always ask a carhop for recommendations as they are the ones who experiment with flavors and add to the growing list. With that many drinks available at the drive-in, even Aquaman would be impressed if he ever decided to consume anything else than water and “swam” by a Sonic.
7. Price for wheels
Ever thought of becoming a car hopper and wanting to exhibit your skills on wheels, while making customers happy? Before you do that you have to keep in mind that you’ll have to purchase your own skates. Sonic doesn’t just give it to you. Attached to the branded skates is a $100 price tag and it doesn’t end there. You will be constantly moving about and the imminent wear and tear of the skates demand repairs. Throw in some extra cash for toe-stop replacements and wheels. Once you own your shiny pair of skates, you might undergo some training or are expected to have some skills. Life of a car hopper goes through trials and tribulations when it comes to wages as well. Some locations give minimum wage while others are below the minimum and it all comes down to tips.
So there you go. If you plan on becoming one, you’ll know that there will be some investment required towards those fancy skates. Afterall, with great speed comes a steep ‘price.’ Generally carhops are considered tipped staff because of the wage, which is your encouraged to throw in a buck or two. So if a carhop speeds upto you with a service and smile, make sure to give them a nice tip for all their acrobatics and send them back home with more than they might usually get at the end of a shift.
6. Animal welfare
In 2010, Sonic drive-in established an animal welfare policy. At the time chains like McDonalds were behind on that front. The ingredients involved in the fast food business are usually not considered humane free, which is why the chain took a step to accept cage-free eggs and pork from suppliers that don’t keep pigs in gestation crates. Infact there are so persistent towards accepting humane soured ingredients that in 2016, they established goals specifically tailored to the animal welfare policy, all across their 3,500 chains in the US. With a focused commitment towards implementing such a policy, the restaurant claims to eradicate pork obtained from suppliers using gestation crates by 2022. They also plan to use 100 percent cage-free eggs by 2025.
Besides these changes, the chain has also done some transformation to the dairy product department. Prior to 2010, milkshakes and frozen treats were made using a non ice cream substitute. The preparation process for their dairy products has been converted and pure ice cream items have taken up charge, instead of low fat dairy products. With the urgency made by Sonic to humanize the process and make alterations with other food items, consumers can rest easy when they visit the restaurant. This is a major step towards achieving goals that benefit the welfare of animals and hopefully soon, all restaurant chains would follow suit.
5. Only the rich and the worthy, please stand up
Want to purchase your very own franchise? Do you have what it takes to own one? Are you pockets deep enough or are they riddled with holes before you even think of buying one? If you have Sonic in mind, good news. You come get hold of one. Bad news. Theres a hefty price attached to the deal. The franchise fee alone revolves around $45,000 and that only helps secures the location. Once you do the deed, you then have to shell out another $860,000 for the start-up cost covering land purchase, construction of the restaurant, hiring employees and the sourcing of the materials. Pricier markets require more from your wallet and can skyrocket to 3 million.
With that much investment, Sonic expects you to have liquid capital of $500,000 and a net worth of 1 million to begin with. Now that the big numbers are out of the way, and your hopes of having all the unlimited drinks and burgers are shattered and buried six feet under, lets sit in our chairs and watch who stands up and takes the leap of faith. We pray that the next guy interested has a ‘speedy’ recovery when it comes to the bank account.
4. The one ring to rule them all
Have you ever thought why the onion rings at Sonic have a certain sweetness to it? Its because the batter is prepared in vats that have had vanilla in them. With a combination of vanilla soft mix, flour and cornmeal, the rings have a distinct taste to them. Moreover the onion rings are organised by hand and there is an exclusive employee just to slice, batter and fry the onions. The potatoes sacrificed in the process are fresh everyday.
So if your feeling for something sweet and crispy at the same time, Sonic onion rings mixed in with an essence of vanilla, sounds like a good option. Anyways, whatever transpires in the kitchens of Sonic, these combinations in drinks and food sure works for them and boy they taste good.
3. Sonic at the beach
Sonic opened its doors in the beach locales of Florida. This shook things up a bit for the chain as it wanted to change its image of just being a drive-in restaurant. With a beach side view and the ocean waves crashing the shores, you can now enjoy a chilled beer with tater tots, at least at one of the locations, Sonic Beach. With a patio area and LED 60 inch flat screens decorating the place, what else can you ask for?
A Sonic minus the drive-thru is a novel idea and we are all for it. Besides, nothing can top a beach side location, especially in summer and your own customizable slush in hand. With exclusive features to the menu of Sonic Beach like Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich, Philly Cheesesteakes, Popcorn Shrimp, Popcorn Chicken, and Island Sorbets, are some of the choices that can be indulged in.
2. Ice aficionados
One would never think of ice being popular at a food chain. Well that is exactly the case when it comes to Sonic’s Nugget Ice. The small, soft chunks of ice are a big thing for those who visit the chain. It has its own fan following. The holy matrimony between frozen water and air makes this ice a reality. The soft chewable ice adds to the flavor of the drink and can be purchased from a Sonic, anything between the $2-$5 price ranges. The ice acts as a leftover snack once you get over with your drink and now ain’t that ‘cool.’ No wonder some customers drop by a Sonic and yes sometimes carhops do come to deliver you just that.
Thanks to their popularity and cult following, now you can get your own ice maker. A contraption called the Opal Nugget Ice Maker is available for $499 and it does exactly what its named. Now you can mix in the ice with your favorite drink at home to see what all the fuss is about. Saves you the trip to a Sonic, if its not in your neighborhood.
1. On the digital highway
Sonic is old school only in ambience. Like other chains, it too is trying to make itself more accessible for its customers. With the Sonic drive-in app, people can now order through their mobile phones. It is not an uncommon practice anymore as restaurants are trying to find ways and means for customers to order faster and ahead of time. Also the menu of the app imitates the ones at the chains. Its getting pretty popular and the app has plans in the future to track customer data, money spent and customer preferences.
It adds to the convenience and the information gathered by the app will make Sonic much more tailored for the individual consumer. The goal of the brand is to win market share in the communities it serves and also become more prominent. Some of the features of the app include finding the nearest Sonic drive-in locations and their hours of operation, monthly rewards, sending and getting gift cards from family and friends with cool designs, and so on. The app also gives nutritional information, complete with special offers and promotions. Looking at how far the chain has come since its inception, encompassing more than 60 years, this seems like the next logical step for it, especially when smartphones have become so popular. Ordering food through an app is common practice for any small or big restaurant business and its time Sonic traversed on the digital wagon. The only thing now that the app can’t accomplish is carhops speeding their way to you with your order, unless they start popping on your phone screen in the distant future, who knows. For now we will have to make do with the free medium slush you get if you download it for iOS or Android.