#3 on the Franchise 500: Sonic Drive-In Looks to the Future
Started franchising: 1959
Total units: 3,606
Cost to open: $865K–$3.6M
What’s old is new again.
When people talk about “companies of the future,” they typically mean Silicon Valley flash -- not a drive-in burger-and-shake restaurant developed in 1953. But Sonic Drive-In believes its recipe of old-timey service marries well with modern tech, and the numbers back it up. There are now more than 3,600 Sonics in the U.S. That focus on tech and service helped propel Sonic to the #3 spot in the Franchise 500, up from #6 in 2018.
“People perceive the drive-in as retro,” says president Claudia San Pedro, “but we were really built for the future.”
For Sonic, that vision begins with its app. It implemented an “order ahead” feature in July and has worked to expand its availability across the country since. Now customers can order before they arrive -- and when they arrive, Sonic’s antique setting becomes suddenly very relevant. Customers can park their cars in a stall, check in, and receive their food via carhop without waiting in a drive-through line or a crowded mobile-pickup area. Sonic argues that it’s a more comfortable, easy, and efficient operation than its competitors can offer. (Of course, customers can also still drive up and order from the stalls.)
With app-based orders rising, San Pedro says Sonic has an even bigger goal for 2019: using mobile-order data to target marketing to individual customers, letting them know about the products most relevant to their specific interests. “Our goal,” she says, “is to learn exactly what our consumer likes and personalize messages on a one-to-one basis.”