- During a virtual media event Tuesday, Sonic's Chief Marketing Officer Lori Abou Habib said the chain is currently testing the ability to tip its carhops via its mobile app. The functionality is now available at 1,000 of the chain's 3,500 locations and will be available systemwide by the end of the year.
- Abou Habib said the ability to tip via the app is one of the top two requests the company receives from customers. The addition is "going to be welcomed news for our carhops, but also to our guests who have been looking for that functionality," she said.
- Sonic's customers have always had the ability to tip carhops in cash, but not on the app or through a credit/debit payment. A Change.org petition was created four years ago asking Sonic to add the ability to tip via credit/debit card purchases. The petition received over 33,000 signatures.
Using its digital resources to resolve diner tipping issues is a savvy move, since the drive-in/carhop model in general has experienced a bit of a resurgence. Even Taco Bell wants a piece of the carhop model, announcing that its new Go Mobile locations will feature drive-thrus and curbside pickup operated by "bellhops."
Sonic's career page notes that carhops make full wage plus tips, versus a server wage, even though the position seems to mirror traditional table service. The position's duties include carrying and balancing trays, greeting guests, serving guests, clearing trays and making changes quickly and accurately.
In October, Mashed reported that tipping carhops at Sonic is common, but one Reddit user claiming to be a Sonic employee said they earn two dollars less than minimum wage. It's possible that carhop pay is different across regions, since carhop regulations vary by state and location, according to Pop Sugar.
Tipping is the latest functionality for the chain's robust digital ecosystem. Last year, for example, Sonic teamed up with Amazon to enable guests to connect with its app by speaking to Alexa. The company also piloted Google's RCS mobile messaging capability with Mobivity last year, which resulted in five times as many app downloads versus its previous mobile messaging platform.
These additions complement the chain's integrated customer engagement platform, which began rolling out a few years ago and gives customers the ability to customize their meal, pay and select which drive-in stall to use and when to pick up their food. The system provides personalized greetings and informs customers of where their food is in the cooking process. Sonic had this platform in place prior to the pandemic, when such features like mobile-order-ahead and pay-ahead became table stakes, which likely helped business. Abou Habib said the company's app has experienced an "influx" of new and existing users throughout the pandemic.
Perhaps because of that digital infrastructure, as well as the company's socially distanced model that allows families and friends to share a meal together away from home without the risk of interacting with others — Sonic has been thriving. TOP data revealed in 2020 that Sonic has been a top quick-service brand of choice during the pandemic in 14 U.S. states — more than any other QSR. The report noted that Sonic's unique business model and carhop service has benefited the brand.
During the National Retail Federation 2021 Retail's Big Show, Sonic President Claudia San Pedro said the company was able to showcase its digital capabilities during the pandemic through contactless ordering.
"As we leaned into that, we were able to significantly increase the number of sales and our rewards base that came in through that app," she said.