- Sonic increased sales by over $1 billion during the pandemic.
- Experts credit the chain’s drive-in model and broad menu for its success.
- I went there to try out the food and drive-in experience.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
I visited a Henrietta, New York location to try out the drive-in service that was so successful.
Sonic operates a drive-thru, dining room, and drive-in. The drive-in has 15 to 20 parking spots with their own speakers to order food, which is brought outside by the car hop.
The drive-in area is under a covering that keeps it comfortable in hot temperatures or rainy weather.
The drive-in section is just across the parking lot from the entrance.
There’s also a small outdoor seating area.
Normally customers would also have the option of ordering and eating inside, but the dining room was still closed.
Each drive-in spot is essentially a drive-thru in miniature, with a sign displaying Sonic’s massive menu. Customers press the red button to signal that they are ready to order, and a worker will take their order through the speaker.
Most of the sign is a static display, but there is also a digital screen that shares information. In this case, it said that some ingredients were not available because of supply issues across the entire industry.
I ordered through Sonic’s app before I arrived, which gave me time to look through the extensive menu that experts say is key to the chain’s success.
The menu has typical fast food fare – burgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries.
Unlike many competitors, it also has a wide selection of snacks including different types of tater tots, mozzarella sticks, onion rings, and soft pretzels. Analysts said that the comfort food not tied to a specific meal time may have also contributed to Sonic’s success.
Sonic’s drinks are a major part of its appeal to customers. Sonic’s president told Insider that 25% of all orders are drink-only, and there are 1.3 million possible drink combinations on the menu.
There are so many options to add to a drink that it’s almost overwhelming. I finally went with a diet coke with cranberry flavor and lime.
Once you finish ordering on the app, check out and pay.
The app lets you know that the order has been accepted.
When you arrive, the app prompts you to say where you are parked. Each spot in the drive-in has a corresponding number.
The app gives updates about order status while you wait.
Once you’re checked in on the app, you can also see your order status on the screen. The screen informed me when a carhop was heading out with my order.
Carhops bring out food and drinks to customers waiting in parking spots.
A server brought out my food and drinks within a few minutes, boxed up conveniently for transport.
The drinks, a milkshake and a flavored coke, were probably the highlight of our trip – and definitely worth a visit on their own.
Some people eat in their cars, but I chose to drive home because the snacks I ordered were fairly messy.
While it’s not the prettiest food in pictures, Sonic delicious comfort food options that are perfect for sharing.
After my visit, I’m not surprised that Sonic grew so much during the pandemic. It sells snacks and drinks that make a perfect treat any time of the day, and the drive-in has very minimal contact with other people for safety.