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Franchise 500 2023
2024 Franchise 500 Rank
#50 Ranked #42 last year
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Initial investment
$1.7M - $3.4M
Units as of 2023
3,545 Increase 0.6% over 3 years

Sonic Drive-In Franchise

Most of the old-fashioned drive-in restaurants in America have gone the way of the dinosaur and are no longer serving hungry customers. 

Sonic is the exception. Sonic continues to serve happy customers by the hundreds of thousands and millions each year, making it a great franchise opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs.

But what exactly is included with starting a Sonic Drive-In franchise, and is it right for you? Read on to discover the answers.

Why should you start a Sonic franchise?

There are many great reasons to consider starting a Sonic franchise compared to other fast food franchises.

The first of these is that Sonic is one the largest, most popular drive-in restaurant chains, evidenced by the fact that it is still around as opposed to its competitors. 

The drive-thru business model has usurped the drive-in model; however, Sonic’s continued success proves there is still a market for this kind of fast-food restaurant. 

The restaurant chain, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, serves hot and fresh fast food and has been doing so for over 60 years. Its drive-thru business model serves hamburgers, hot dogs and onion rings, allowing franchise owners to make the most of limited real estate.

The Sonic brand is expanding into all 50 states, offering new franchise opportunities to those with the drive and ambition to succeed. 

The significant benefits you’ll get from starting a franchise with Sonic include the following:

  • Access to leadership from a best-in-class support team.
  • Provide a diverse menu to your customers that maximizes all five “dayparts,” the different times when people get hungry and like to eat.
  • High gross sales over the years.
  • A unique business model that will minimize your competition with other fast-food chains.

Unlike other fast restaurants, Sonic stores provide food directly to their customers via a carhop — think of them as a waiter who skates out to the car instead of requiring people to come to sit down at a restaurant's table.

This unique business model allows customers to enjoy the comfort and familiarity of their vehicles while being served delicious food. This is core to the Sonic experience, and it’s a big brand difference that may help your franchise location succeed.

Most Sonic drive-in locations come with 25 parking stalls. Thus, customers don't have to worry about beating rush hour and restaurants don't need to worry about turning too many people away, even when their stores are popular.

You can choose, however, from three different types of Sonic restaurants:

  • A traditional Sonic drive-in location is usually a freestanding, one-story building with various surrounding parking stalls. This may include some indoor seating depending on franchisor discretion and Sonic locations.
  • A nondriving location. This can be a permanent or temporary Sonic restaurant facility without freestanding buildings or drive-in canopies.
  • A nontraditional location is any permanent or temporary food service facility with some or all of the Sonic brand menu items.

Some franchisees can have multi-unit franchise ownership terms to have multiple locations. These business opportunities can require higher estimated initial investments, however.

Does Sonic offer franchisees territory exclusivity? 

As another plus, Sonic usually does not own or operate another restaurant in a franchisee's designated area. 

Each franchisee gets a protected area, a radius of 1.5 to 3 miles away from their location, depending on the population. The more concentrated your local area's population is, the smaller your protected area will be.

You don’t have to worry about another franchisee setting up shop next to your Sonic drive-in restaurant. Therefore, you can focus on marketing to the people you want to serve and minimizing direct competition.

Sonic also allows franchisees to operate restaurants at nontraditional locations. These include foreign areas or franchise restaurants in vacation territories. If you choose this route, remember that you don't receive a protected area or any territorial rights or protection.

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

What support resources does Sonic offer new franchisees? 

If you are new to business leadership or owning and running a restaurant, don’t worry. Sonic provides lots of support resources for you to take advantage of.

First and foremost is comprehensive marketing support, including regional advertising help, national advertising support and social media advertising assistance. 

With all these resources, your marketing campaigns will be successful and will draw people from your target market to your store sooner rather than later.

However, Sonic also provides extra support resources, such as:

  • Access to corporate educational and social resources, such as newsletters, meetings, conventions and a toll-free support line.
  • Grand opening support. Sonic’s corporate team will support your store during its grand opening event, ensuring you can make things run smoothly and have all the materials you need to supply customers with delicious food.
  • Security and safety procedures and training. This will keep your store safe from burglary and other potential threats.

With all these resources, you’ll feel confident and capable as you run your Sonic location, even if you don’t have much business management experience. 

Sonic is invested in each new franchisee, so if you have any questions or concerns, you can always contact corporate for additional advice or assistance. 

Related: Sonic Looks to Conquer Tougher Markets on Encouraging Q1 Results

How much does opening a Sonic Drive-In franchise cost?

Starting a Sonic drive-in franchise does require some start-up cash: specifically, a $45,000 initial franchise fee. You’ll need a net worth of $1 million, and about $500,000 of that needs to be in liquid cash. 

In total, expect your initial investment to be between $700,000 and $3.5 million, depending on your store location's projected competitiveness and profitability.

That means that starting a Sonic franchise is a little more expensive than starting other restaurant locations. 

You also have to keep in mind that the royalty fees are 5%, with another 3.25% added for ad royalty fees. The franchise disclosure document (FDD) will include these details and other franchise information.

That said, because of Sonic’s unique market dominance in its particular fast food niche, starting a Sonic franchised location might still be a good idea if you have the money to make it work. Each agreement term is for 20 years, and you can renew the franchise terms if everything goes smoothly.

Therefore, this franchise opportunity could yield massive long-term success, particularly as you get more experience and better run your restaurant and cut costs.

Does Sonic provide financial aid? 

On the downside, Sonic offers no special financial aid or lending opportunities to new franchisees. 

You’ll have to come up with the scratch to start your franchised location by yourself, either through saving or through finding financing deals through third-party lending organizations.

Related: Sonic Drive In Booms

What kind of training is required for your new Sonic Drive-In franchise? 

To ensure you’re ready to run your Sonic location successfully, Sonic’s corporate team requires all new franchisees to complete 16 hours of classroom training and about 440 hours of on-the-job training.

The training is comprehensive. You, the franchise principal and at least one restaurant manager have to attend and complete the two-phase career development program.

The on-the-job training is necessary so everyone working in the restaurant knows how to operate the business successfully and train staff members. 

The 440 hours of on-the-job training takes place at a technical Sonic restaurant, which could be at various locations depending on where you live and where your future store will operate.

On top of that, Sonic corporate provides self-directed, ongoing training program access, online training and webinars for different management personnel. 

Using these resources, you won't find it too difficult to train new Sonic employees, which can be very beneficial as you staff your restaurant.

Remember that for the first three Sonic restaurants, you’ll have to send at least one general manager, four assistant managers and two crew leaders from those restaurants to training programs. All in all, you can rest assured your staff will know how to run your restaurant successfully.

Related: Sonic Announces Venture with go2

Start a Sonic Drive-In franchise today

With the right mindset, a Sonic franchise could be the best way to start a successful business of your very own.

Check out Entrepreneur’s other articles for more information about Sonic and other franchise opportunities.

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Company Overview

About Sonic Drive-In

Industry Food
Related Categories Hamburgers
Founded 1953
Parent Company Inspire Brands
Leadership Jim Taylor, President
Corporate Address 3 Glenlake Parkway N.E.
Atlanta, GA 30328
Social Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube

Business Overview

Franchising Since 1959 (65 years)
# of employees at HQ 3,000
Where seeking

This company is offering new franchises throughout the US.

# of Units 3,545 (as of 2023)

Information for Franchisees

Here's what you need to know if you're interested in opening a Sonic Drive-In franchise.

Financial Requirements & Ongoing Fees

Here's what you can expect to spend to start the business and what ongoing fees the franchisor charges throughout the life of the business.

Initial Franchise Fee Information Circle
$30,000 - $45,000
Initial Investment Information Circle
$1,714,200 - $3,370,900
Net Worth Requirement Information Circle
Cash Requirement Information Circle
Royalty Fee Information Circle
Ad Royalty Fee Information Circle
Term of Agreement Information Circle
20 years
Is franchise term renewable? Yes
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Training & Support Offered

Franchisors offer initial training programs and a variety of ongoing support options to help franchisees run their businesses.

On-The-Job Training 440 hours
Classroom Training 16 hours
Ongoing Support
Purchasing Co-ops
Meetings & Conventions
Toll-Free Line
Grand Opening
Security & Safety Procedures
Marketing Support
Co-op Advertising
Ad Templates
National Media
Regional Advertising
Social Media
Email Marketing
Loyalty Program/App


Additional details about running this franchise.

Is absentee ownership allowed? No
Can this franchise be run from home/mobile unit? Information Circle
Can this franchise be run part time? Information Circle
# of employees required to run 25
Are exclusive territories available? Information Circle
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Franchise 500 Ranking History

Compare where Sonic Drive-In landed on this year's Franchise 500 Ranking versus previous years.

Additional Rankings

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The information on this page is not intended as an endorsement or recommendation of any particular franchise or business opportunity by Entrepreneur Media. Our listings and rankings are solely research tools you can use to compare opportunities. Entrepreneur stresses that you should always conduct your own independent investigation before investing in a franchise or business opportunity. That should include reviewing the company's legal documents, consulting with an attorney and an accountant, and talking to former and current franchisees/licensees/dealers.
Updated: December 12th, 2022