what it's like to work at sonic

Sonic was born in 1953 in a small town in Oklahoma. Now it has grown to include over 3,500 locations in 44 US states. That’s no small feat. Known for its burgers, fries, "world famous onion rings," and slushies, it’s a fan favorite for cheap eats, via drive-thru or delivered to your parked vehicle. Sonic workers used to all roller skate to your car to bring you your food. That has since changed but holds up as an option for employees who want to brave the wheels. The ones who do can even enter a competition for best skating carhop.

So what’s it really like to work at the famous drive-in and how many wipe-outs have happened on the clock for those who do skate? While there is no definitive statistic on the latter, there are definitely some insider stories all over the Internet regarding life behind the stalls at Sonic Drive-In. Here’s what both current and former employees had to say about their experience at the fast food chain and [non-alcoholic] happy hour hang out.

Sonic workers have to beware of "scan hogs"

If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that nobody likes a scan hog—well, at least we know that now that we’ve learned from a supposed Sonic employee what a scan hog is, of course. "Scan hog" is a term Sonic workers slangily use to call out a certain type of carhop at the restaurant where they work. Carhops at Sonic do a lot of tasks but one of those tasks is scanning a card to confirm an order is ready to be taken to a customer’s car. If more than one order is ready at a time, there is potential for scan hogging.

According to a Reddit user dishing the dirt on Sonic in an AMA thread, "Scan hogs usually stand directly next to the place where you scan for orders, waiting for one to be ready. If there’s more than one order ready, they sometimes scan for both instead of letting another carhop take one." Since carhops earn tips, this behavior is problematic. The scan hogs get more opportunities for tips. The potential for legit tips are part of the incentive for working at Sonic, as opposed to any old fast food joint. So this seems like it would be really frustrating to have to deal with on a regular basis.

The drinks are free for Sonic employees

Every day between 2 and 4 p.m., Sonic restaurants boast a "happy hour" deal where customers can purchase drinks and slushes for half the normal price. For Sonic employees, that deal is irrelevant because, per a Reddit thread spearheaded by a Sonic drive-thru worker, employees guzzle drinks for free. A commenter was concerned with whether tipping was necessary when taking advantage of the half-priced slush extravaganza every day and then the supposed Sonic crew member wrote in response, "If you’re using the drive thru, then whatever. And you’re not ordering anything crazy, if I didn’t work at Sonic and already get free drinks, I’d take advantage of the deal all day every day."

Also, former Sonic workers confirm in reviews about working for the company on Glassdoor that they did, indeed, enjoy gratis drinks, a definite perk of the job. Quora user Eric Toy responded to a thread about the best parts of the job at Sonic with, "Any drink that you want, for free."

We’d probably be in a Sonic slush coma every day if we took advantage of this employee benefit.

Food prep is key for a successful shift at Sonic

Food prep seems to be key in a lot of things, like success when you’re trying to stick to a diet or healthy eating plan, and when you’re gearing up for a busy lunch hour rush at a popular fast food joint. Sonic has a lot of menu items, which can add to the stress level of the workers preparing the food. Getting everything set, so that it’s easy to cook (and cooking what you can in advance), get into a bag, and out the door is crucial.

A person claiming to work for Sonic shared this tip on a Reddit AMA where someone asked for tips before their first day on the job at Sonic: "I’d say the hardest part about kitchen is making sure you have everything ready. There’s like 5 kinds of chicken, 2 kinds of patties, 2 sizes of hot dogs. Making sure that you have enough of everything and cooking more any time you are low is key to surviving rushes."

You know the saying, the more meat they serve, the more prep there is … okay, that’s not a saying but might as well be on a mounted wall plaque in the kitchen at Sonic, right?

Tips are a huge boost for Sonic carhop workers

Carhops are the heart and soul of Sonic, since they’re responsible for delivering your grub to your car (sometimes on roller skates). It’s a unique position for a fast food restaurant since most places are just drive-thru or dine-in only. Since Sonic has stalls where you park and order your food to be brought out to you, these positions are more like traditional servers than fast food workers, hence the warrant of tips.

Former Sonic carhops have shared via numerous Reddit threads that tips are really important in terms of their bottom line and take-home pay. One supposed employee said in a Reddit AMA thread (that’s six years old, so numbers might have changed since then), "Carhoppers get paid two dollars less than minimum. So with min wage being $7.25, we get paid $5.25. You should always tip…" and another confessed carhop explained in a different Reddit comment, "…we don’t require tips, but it’s really helpful." A Reddit user who touted five years of experience at Sonic wrote, "…tips are essential part of pay…on average 50 percent of the customers tip anything. Most of the time it is keep the change, which is awesome. Anything above that is really great. So yes, you should tip your carhop, maybe not every time but when you can."

It’s definitely something to keep in mind in terms of gratuity, the next time someone brings you a burger on skates — they earned it.

Getting free food as a Sonic worker depends on your manager

Probably the first question we all want to ask fast food workers: "What’s the 4-1-1 on free food? Yay or nay?" At Sonic, the answer is sometimes "yay?" Apparently, it depends on who’s in charge of their restaurant.

In a Reddit AMA thread instigated by a Sonic employee, a commenter asked about what the worker was "least proud of" and the employee alluded to some guilt around free food. The person responded that they easily get free grub but the ease with which they get it depends on their manager. In the thread, the user stated: "Some managers are really cool about it and they don’t care, but if it’s a [sic] uptight manager, then we’ll ring up whatever food we want as if someone ordered it, then say that it was a drive away and have the ticket canceled. By the end of it, we have free food."

Okay, so maybe that’s not the worst thing a fast food worker has ever done, but it is pretty sneaky. Regardless, heed this warning if you’re about to start working at Sonic: some managers are more paranoid about getting busted for swiping free food than others.

Some Sonic workers skip a step when making the Limeade

The Limeade at Sonic Drive-In is a customer fave, and the Strawberry Limeade is especially tasty and a Sonic all-star on a hot summer day. It’s such a special, refreshing treat, the die-hards can usually tell if something’s off and it turns out if something’s off, a Sonic crew member is likely to blame.

According to a Sonic worker chiming in on a Reddit AMA thread, the magic happens with the lime protocol. When a commenter complained that a Strawberry Limeade order tasted less than stellar (specifically, "like a sprite with strawberry goop in it"), the Sonic employee responded, "Heres my guess, the person working the fountain isn’t squeezing the limes and just throwing the limes in there. Next time you order, open your cup and see if the limes were squeezed or not." Ah, so it’s all about that citrus squeeze-age — good to know.

Sonic is a good gig for the customer service savvy

A lot of fast food restaurants end up having "regulars" in the same way that diners, coffee shops, and bars do. The incentive for regular patronage is usually good food and good service. Since Sonic has a unique setup for fast food, there is ample opportunity for customer service. Both current and former Sonic employees can attest to this.

In response to a Quora question around the best aspects of employment at Sonic, Quora user and self-proclaimed former Sonic manager and carhop Kourtney Fiorucci wrote, "I can tell you the best aspects would be the ability to enhance your customer service skills. You have the chance to learn to be more patient and listen to what others are saying. You can learn how to diffuse, situations that are heated and can become emotionally unstable. If you have a good teacher (store manager), you can learn how to appease irate customers and even have them leave happy, without REALLY giving anything up to them."

Another Sonic employee, and Quora member Chex LeMeneux, responded that the customer service aspect of the job is a particular highlight. "Personally, customer satisfaction is my niche. I’m a natural people pleaser, so knowing that my customers at the Drive-Thru or the Stalls or the Lobby are happy with my service; that’s my favorite part…"

So as you can see, a job at Sonic is so much more than slinging some delicious burgers ‘n ‘tots.

Roller skates are not required but certain types are preferable for the Sonic employees who do wear them

Sonic’s initial appeal was the old school drive-in vibe of guys and gals on roller skates, bringing food to your car. Nowadays, being on roller skates is definitely not a requirement for the job of bringing the food to someone’s car at Sonic, aka the carhop position. However, for the crew members who do decide to keep donning their skates, there are apparently certain types of skates that are better than others.

In a Reddit thread started by a newly minted skating Sonic carhop asking for advice, a person who said they worked as a skating carhop at Sonic wrote, "I worked at sonic when I was 16-18 in High school and wore quad skates as they are way more comfortable over long periods of time." They also got paid 50 cents extra for skating.

The original question asker had cited a preference for inline skates, which the person claimed "everyone at work" recommended, too. Word on the street is, the floors inside the restaurant can get a bit slippery so in this instance, those fancy roller blades aren’t the Sonic employee’s friend.

Speediness is a big factor in doing a good job at Sonic

Popular fast food establishments like Sonic can get pretty hectic at lunchtime. There is a bit of a balance between trying to get the customers their food as quickly as possible while also ensuring it is cooked properly and safely. Speed is an important skill as a Sonic employee.

In a Quora thread seeking advice for a new crew member at Sonic, Quora user and employee at Sonic of seven years, Robert Jackson wrote, "…the customer buzzes in, then whoever’s taking the order is expected to answer within just a few seconds, and take the order within another short amount of time. Then the ‘kitchen’s timer’ started, and we then had 2 minutes to have the food cooked and clocked out."

The same employee later said that Sonic was pretty strict on how much time could pass before a customer received their order. "If I remember correctly, 4 minutes was considered the absolute max from when a customer starts his or her order to actually receiving their food … my tip would be to learn what the company expects from you in terms of speed," Jackson said.

This is definitely interesting, detailed insight into just how important speedy service factors into whether you’re staying on your toes as a Sonic employee.

Clothing might get ruined working at Sonic

If you’re rolling up for your first shift at Sonic, maybe don’t sport your Sunday best. If it’s one thing former Sonic employees agree on, it’s that you’re going to get messy on the job. In response to a Quora post asking about the best aspect of working at Sonic, Quora user Eric Toy responded, " Sometimes I have to make 20 shakes within 10 minutes and at the end of the night around 12 I’m covered in ice cream, there’s stains from the flavored syrup everywhere…"

And in a different Quora thread asking for advice to new Sonic team members, Quora user Cire Jauregui (claiming to have worked at Sonic in 2017) said, "Be prepared to get bleach stains on everything you wear there because the cleaner has bleach on it." According to Jauregui, future Sonic employees would be wise to not "buy nice pants/shorts/uniform bottoms to wear." Instead, Jauregui advised that team members "get multiple shirts ASAP because you won’t want to wear a dirty, ice cream- and slush-stained shirt and you won’t have time to wash them every single day." Copy that — slush making isn’t for anyone afraid to get dirty!

There are some creative ways Sonic workers utilize the grease

If you’re looking for 101 ways to use frying grease, look no further than a Sonic kitchen. Employees know how to utilize grease to the max.

In a Quora question posed by someone about to start work at Sonic, Quora user Destin Fox had a lot of interesting insider tips around how to best repurpose the grease in Sonic’s kitchen including. "You can use the grease swamp to cook just about everything in a rush. Hotdogs, 12 inch coney, and even sausage bits," Fox revealed. The employee also said that any grease times "aren’t set in stone." For example, if a Sonic employee needs mozzarella sticks fast, Fox said to "drop them on toast instead of mozz sticks." We assume in this instance "toast" and "mozz sticks" are both settings on the fryer, or this is just some slick Sonic lingo for, "ignore the manual and fry whatever you need, for as long as you need" … or something along those lines.

Sonic workers can make some fun concoctions with cheap ingredients

Spend enough time in a fast food kitchen and you’re bound to get crafty with the food lying around and up for grabs.

Quora user Robert Jackson responded to a thread about tips for starting work at Sonic with some hacks for enjoying the food there too. He wrote, "Crush up a few empty ice cream cones and have them blended into your milk shake" before adding, "bring green tomatoes from home and run them through the onion-ring process to yield fried green tomatoes." Jackson also cited that many of his colleagues, "…were into deep frying a tortilla shell and topping with ice-cream, syrup, honey, chocolate, or whatever you like for a Sonic-style sopapilla."

Okay, these Sonic menu hacks sound delicious and perhaps worthy of the actual, official Sonic Drive-In menu. Just sayin’ Sonic are you reading this? You’ve got geniuses in your kitchen.