Sonic's president dishes on the drive-in format's current success
Sonic Drive-In is navigating the coronavirus pandemic in a way few other restaurants can because, in a sense, it was built for social distancing.
Sonic is the largest drive-in restaurant chain, with more than 3,500 locations across the United States. Having diners pull up and get their food from carhops, rather than waiting inside or dining inside a restaurant, is suddenly more relevant than ever.
“I don’t think that there’s any doubt that our physical format absolutely was in line with exactly how we are living during this pandemic time period,” Sonic President Claudia San Pedro says on the latest edition of Ad Age’s “Marketer’s Brief” podcast.
In line with other chains, Sonic has seen visits during breakfast and later at night decline during the pandemic. But its lunch, afternoon and dinner business has seen big increases in both traffic and order size, San Pedro says, as people visit for comfort foods such as ice cream and hamburgers.
Only about 2 percent of Sonic locations have dining rooms. And the pandemic has validated that the chain, which was started in Oklahoma in 1953, can do without them, she says. “As we build new drive-ins, we really don’t see as much of a need for indoor dining,” San Pedro says.
Sonic refreshed its logo in early 2020 and began airing new ads from creative shop Mother featuring a more diverse cast of diners in early March, though the two guys in Sonic’s ads “are not gone for good,” San Pedro says.
Sonic also worked with ChangeUp on a new restaurant design. The first location with the somewhat mid-century modern look opened in Oklahoma in early June. “It was very important to us for it to have a distinctive, unique look to connote that drive-in, carefree feeling,” say San Pedro. Now, she says the brand has identified 1,400 sites for new locations.