#3 on the Franchise 500: Sonic Drive-In Looks to the Future

The #3 company on our Franchise 500 list may be built on the idea of nostalgia, but a new wave of tech-focused initiatives is laying a strong foundation for years to come.

learn more about Matthew McCreary

By Matthew McCreary

Courtesy of Sonic Drive-In

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.

Related: 7 Fast-Food Franchises Had More Sales Than Chick-fil-A Last Year. Can You Name Them?

"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.)

Related: How These Franchisees Keep Their Young Workforce Motivated

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."

To see our complete Franchisee 500 rankings, please click here, or view more stories here.

Matthew McCreary

Entrepreneur Staff

Associate Editor, Contributed Content

Matthew McCreary is the associate editor for contributed content at Entrepreneur.com.

Related Topics

Business News

4.9 Million Bottles of Fabuloso Cleaner Recalled Over Contamination Concerns

Manufacturer Colgate-Palmolive said the recalled units could contain bacteria dangerous to the immunocompromised.

Business News

'Ultra-Luxury' Real Estate Influencer Busted for Stealing $381,000 in COVID Relief Funds — To Fund Her Lavish Lifestyle

Daniela Rendon, 31, allegedly used fraudulently obtained money to lease a 2021 Bentley, rent a luxury apartment, and pay for cosmetic surgery.

Business Ideas

How to Make Thousands of Dollars on the Side As a Virtual Assistant

Apply your skills and experience to create a lucrative virtual assistant side hustle or full-time business.

Business News

Hermès Wins Trademark Case Against Artist Who Sold Birkin Bag NFTs

The case was deemed a critical examination of how a company can enforce intellectual property rights in relation to virtual assets.

Living

Invest in Yourself: 10 Things Every Working Woman Should Do This Year

When striving for success, it is easy to forget about your mental and physical health. But without health, you cannot fully succeed. Follow these ten lifestyle strategies for success in your personal and professional life.

Money & Finance

What Is Earnest Money and How Much Should You Pay?

Not sure what earnest money is or how much it will cost when buying a home? Discover the answers to these questions and more in our detailed guide.