Your road trip across America is just beginning and you suddenly feel the urge to pull into a fast-food restaurant to get a burger or a hot dog. A blue and red SONIC sign catches your attention and you pull in. This is no ordinary drive-in though! At SONIC you order your meal via a curbside speaker and a very short time later it is delivered to you by a waiter or waitress on wheels while you sit comfortably in your car. Do not worry, you have not just driven back into the past, this nostalgic fast-food chain just gives you the feeling of having entered an old-timey, 50’s diner!
The name SONIC already implies “Service at the sound of speed” and this fast-food chain in the United States is known for being quick as they serve up a wide selection of hamburgers, hot dogs, toaster sandwiches, shakes, slushies and a variety of other treats like onion rings and fries. What makes this restaurant so unique, however, is how it delivers its food – on wheels! Seventy years ago, it would not have been uncommon to be served by carhop, but today it is a special experience to have a waiter or waitress bring you your order directly to your car on skates. SONIC was one of the first restaurants to successfully revolutionize the use of curbside speakers and carhops as a restaurant concept – and continues to do so today!
In 1959, the entrepreneur and air force veteran Troy Smith made his vision of an American drive-in restaurant a reality by founding SONIC, America’s favorite drive-in. Tired of being bossed around by others, he decided to start his own chain. It became an instant success and continues to do well because he effectively combined two of America’s favorite things: cars and quick, quality food. Carhops (the waiters and waitresses who deliver your order directly to your car on skates) and car-to-kitchen intercoms for ordering were not new ideas at the time that he opened his restaurant. He was, however, the person responsible for making this type of restaurant popular. The audio-system that he used in the beginning was a replica of one he saw while traveling along the Texas-Louisiana border.
Before he opened SONIC, Smith had tried a few other restaurant ideas such as a steakhouse and a café. His most successful endeavor was his root beer stand which he called the Top Hat in Shawnee, Oklahoma. In 1959, Smith expanded his root beer stand into a restaurant which he named SONIC. The name stands for what it does, service at the speed of sound. Mr. Smith was an active member of the SONIC board until his death on October 26, 2009 at the age of 87. With more than 3,500 locations in 45 states from coast to coast in the USA, the current chairman of the board and chief executor of Sonic Corp., Cliff Hudson, continues to do what SONIC does best: Serve up good food on skates.
SONIC’s reputation speaks for itself as America’s favorite drive in. It also has, however, the prizes and the award-winning menu to prove it. In 2015, Sonic was ranked 24 on the Entrepreneur 2015 Franchise 500 Ranking and the annual guide to the fast food industry (QSR) placed it in fourth place among other burger restaurants. This is no small feat! SONIC’s line of Premium Beef Hot Dogs won the Nation’s Restaurant News MenuMasters award for best new item in 2012.
There is something for everyone on SONIC’s menu. If the restaurant has the ingredients, they will also let you pick and choose how you want your burger or hot dog made. Whether you would like a burger with crispy bacon or spicy jalapeños or a beef hot dog with chili and cheese on a pretzel bun, the menu and its options are endless! Chicken-lovers can snack on Boneless Wings with honey BBQ, Asian sweet chili or buffalo sauce or enjoy a filet as sandwich. Popular sides include handmade onion rings, mozzarella sticks and tater tots. A special treat for those who love thick Texas toast is SONIC’s line of TOASTER® sandwiches full of your choice of meats, cheese egg or other toppings.
What matches up perfectly to your fast food meal? A frozen drink– and SONIC has plenty of those! On a hot day, SONIC will whip you up a shake of your choice from peanut butter fudge and Oreo cheesecake to coconut and banana cream pie. If you would prefer icy over ice cream, SONIC has the largest selection of frozen drinks than any other fast food chain in the USA. The restaurant already offers 168,894 (give or take a few) drink combinations. In 2011, the company held a competition among employees to create the next best flavor and from the 600 entries it received, Blue Hawaii (Sprite mixed with blue coconut flavoring and real pineapple) and Strawberry Shortcake (Sprite mixed with vanilla, sweet cream and real strawberries) became bestsellers. Customers are invited to create their own drinks too! Cherry Limeades, their signature drink, are their number one bestsellers. They sell so much of it, they could fill 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools! It doesn’t even have to be a hot day for you to enjoy a cold frozen drink – they taste just as good in winter too!
From the moment Troy Smith first opened his franchise, he always had a soft spot for philanthropy and supporting local communities. One of the reasons why his franchise model worked so well was not only because of America’s love for cars and eating, but also their can-do-attitude: young workers are encouraged to develop their talents and learn all the skills it takes to become a manager at SONIC. Not only does the restaurant expect its employees to work, but it encourages them have fun in their annual carhop skating competition. Most of their drive-ins are locally owned and operated. Each franchise has the possibility to create fundraising or community projects. A can-do-attitude is no dream in the USA!
The company today continues to support communities and is involved in projects that create educational opportunities for children between the ages of 4-22 in Oklahoma. Since 2009, SONIC has been working in partnership with DonorsChoose.org to give aid and support to local teachers and students across the USA. Their award-winning project called Limeades for Learning has since then donated more than $4.2 million to educational projects. These funds go towards making sure teachers get the best materials for their students and have the means to inspire creativity. Teachers can post their projects and those with the most votes every week get the most funding. All in all, the project bring teachers, students and community together for the greater good.
On your next road trip across the United States, make sure that you do not miss out on ordering your next meal from a curbside speaker. Let the 50’s nostalgia take you over as you sit in your car and daydream of a meal delivered on wheels! You won’t have much time for dreaming, however, because they are quick – just like you have to be in order to apply for the Green Card DV-18 Lottery on time!
Official Name: SONIC America’s Drive-In
Official Website: www.sonicdrivein.com
Established: 1953 as the root beer stand Top Hat and expanded as SONIC in 1959
Founder: Troy Nuel Smith, Sr. (May 26, 1922 – October 26, 2009), born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Headquarters: 300 Johnny Bench Drive, Oklahoma City, OK 73104
Milestones: More than 3500 restaurants in 45 states and counting
Bestseller: Coney Dogs, Hamburgers and Cherry Limeades
First slogan: Service at the Sound of Speed (1959)
Past and Current Slogans: “Happy Eating” (1980s), “America's Drive-In” (1987), “Faster And Better than Ever” (1988–1990), “No Place Hops like Sonic” (1990-1994), “Summer’s Funner” (1993), “Drive-In For A Change” (1995–1997), “It’s Not Just Good, It's Sonic Good” (2003), “Sonic's Got It, Others Don't” (2007), “Even Sweeter After Dark” (2009), “This is How You Sonic” (2011), “Sonic Everywhere” (2016)