Sonic Drive-In is a cult-favorite fast-food destination nationwide, particularly beloved for its variety of customizable soft drinks and footlong chili cheese coneys. While every Sonic location boasts staple menu items and seasonal favorites, the company is franchise-based, allowing owners from various parts of the country to create unique Sonic experiences for their customers.
I worked at a Northern California Sonic Drive-In location for three years as my very first job. I was a roller-skating carhop, which was a unique experience considering that many Sonic locations have done away with skating servers altogether due to safety or efficiency concerns. During my time as a carhop, I learned lots about the menu, culture, and secret hacks of the franchise. So grab yourself a cherry limeade and read on for insider tips at your favorite drive-in.
1. Carhop Regulations Vary by Location — and So Does Their Training
Like I mentioned above, whether or not carhops skate to customers varies by franchise location. Because I was part of the opening crew at my store, I was lucky to be trained by some of Sonic corporate's best skating carhops — they did tricks, carried heavily laden trays like they were nothing, and helped the new servers learn the ropes. However, not every skating carhop gets this same treatment . . . carhops hired after me were expected to know their way around a pair of roller skates and were not given special skate training for their new, eight-wheeled lifestyle. In short: be kind, and don't laugh if your carhop skates slowly or wobbles a bit while delivering your food.
2. The Onion Rings Are Fresh as Hell
Many Sonic locations have a dedicated onion ring crew member, who slices fresh onions and hand-breads them in Sonic's special onion ring batter recipe. So yep, your favorite treat is fresh and handmade, and you can rest assured that hungry staff inside the restaurant are envying your order of piping-hot onion rings.
3. People Come to Sonic Just For the Ice
. . . and so can you! Sonic's famous pebble-shaped ice is a hot commodity, and many customers come to buy bags of it for themselves. My Sonic location sold 10-pound bags for under $5, and yes, the carhops had to skate and deliver them.
4. You're Allowed (and Encouraged) to Tip
Many Sonic customers don't realize that their carhops rely on the kindness of guests for a large chunk of their take-home pay. While many locations pay carhops minimum wage, the carhops are technically considered tipped staff, and in some states that means they may earn less than minimum wage under the expectation that tips will supplement the difference. So if your carhop is a total gem or does a cool trick on their skates while delivering your slush and tots, toss a buck or two their way — it might make a huge difference in what they go home with at the end of the night.
5. "French Fry Sauce" Is Just a Packaged Combination of Other Condiments
One of Sonic's best offerings, in my opinion, is its tiny packages of "french fry sauce" — and I'm not talking ketchup. Sonic addicts go crazy for fry sauce, and it's no surprise why; the condiment is a Midwestern staple and nostalgic for many, not to mention tasty as hell. If you're nowhere near a Sonic location, you can DIY your own version of the sauce with a combination of ketchup, mayonnaise, onion powder, and a splash of pickle juice.
6. Most Carhops Have to Pay For Their Own Skates
Many people don't realize that if a Sonic carhop is skating, they're probably using their own personal roller skates. And skates aren't cheap — I bought a relatively nice pair with over $200 in saved tips in order to keep up with the stress of near-constant use. (Please refer to fact No. 4!)
7. When in Doubt, Ask Your Carhop For Drink and Dessert Recommendations
If anyone at Sonic knows the best options out of the 168,000+ drink combinations, it's the carhop crew. Often, it's these carhops who are making the drinks, experimenting with flavors in their spare time, and sipping on their own day in and day out. So if you're stumped while staring at the massive drink and ice cream menu, flag down a carhop and ask what their favorite is! Mine is definitely the caramel-banana milkshake or a coconut limeade, but answers will always vary by Sonic crew member.
8. Strawberry Limeade Is the Bestselling Soft Drink (and You Can DIY Your Own)
The bestseller at my Sonic location and many others was consistently strawberry limeade, a refreshing staple on every franchise's menu. If you don't have a local Sonic Drive-In, you can make your own by squeezing fresh lime juice over muddled strawberries and strawberry juice, then topping with Sprite.