- 2023 Franchise 500 Rank
#42 Ranked #38 last year
- Initial investment
$1.7M - $3.4M
- Units as of 2023
3,545 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.
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.
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.
About Sonic Drive-In
|Franchising Since||1959 (64 years)|
|# of employees at HQ||3,000|
This company is offering new franchisees 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
Definition: The initial fee paid to a franchisor to join their system
What you need to know: Found in Item 5 of the FDD, this may be a flat fee, or may vary based on territory size, experience, or other factors.The franchise fee is an up-front (one-time) cost that a new franchisee pays to the franchisor. This fee is usually due at the signing of the franchise agreement and covers the right to use the franchisor's trademarks, name, and related business systems.
|$30,000 - $45,000|
Definition: The total amount necessary to begin operation of the franchise
What you need to know: The initial investment includes the franchise fee, along with other startup expenses such as real estate, equipment, supplies, business licenses, and working capital. This is outlined in a chart in Item 7 of the FDD, showing a range of possible costs from low to high.
|$1,714,200 - $3,370,900|
Net Worth Requirement
Definition: The minimum net worth you must have in order to qualify to become a franchisee of this company
What you need to know: Net worth is the value of a person's assets minus liabilities. Assets include cash, stocks, retirement accounts, and real estate. Liabilities include items like mortgages, car payments, and credit card debt.
Definition: The minimum liquid capital you must have available in order to qualify to become a franchisee of this company.
Definition: A ongoing fee paid to the franchisor on a regular basis.
What you need to know: Most franchisors require franchisees to pay an ongoing royalty fee, which is detailed in Item 6 of the FDD. This fee is typically a percentage of weekly or monthly gross sales, but may also be a flat weekly, monthly, or annual fee.
Ad Royalty Fee
Definition: An going fee paid to the franchisor on a regular basis to support advertising or marketing efforts.
What you need to know: This may also be called advertising fee, marketing fee, brand fund fee, and more, but the basic purpose is the same-- to support promotion of the brand systemwide. As with the royalty fee, it is detailed in Item 6 of the FDD, and can be a percentage of weekly or monthly gross sales or a weekly, monthly, or annual fee.
Term of Agreement
Definition: The length of time your franchise agreement will last.
What you need to know: Franchise terms are typically anywhere from 5 to 20 years in length, but are sometimes instead dependent on factors such as the term of your lease. Once your term is up, you may have the option to renew your agreement, typically for a smaller fee than the original franchise fee.
|Is franchise term renewable?||Yes|
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|
Meetings & Conventions
Security & Safety Procedures
Additional details about running this franchise.
|Is absentee ownership allowed?||No|
Can this franchise be run from home/mobile unit?
Definition: The business can be run from your home and/or a vehicle, and it is not necessary to have a retail facility, office space, or warehouse.
Can this franchise be run part time?
Definition: This business can be run by the owner on a part-time basis (less than 40 hours per week) and/or as a side business; it is not necessary for the business to be open/run full-time.
|# of employees required to run||25|
Are exclusive territories available?
Definition: An exclusive territory is a fixed area in which you are given the right to operate and in which no other units of the same franchise may be opened.
What you need to know: Territory size may be based on factors such as radius, population size, zip codes, and more. Details can be found in Item 12 of the FDD.
Franchise 500 Ranking History
Compare where Sonic Drive-In landed on this year's Franchise 500 Ranking versus previous years.
Curious to know where Sonic Drive-In ranked on other franchise lists? Find out below.
Are you eager to see what else is out there? Browse franchises that are similar to Sonic Drive-In.
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