Can You Tip The Carhops At SONIC?

You may be a frequent flyer at SONIC restaurants, and we wouldn't blame you, after all, it is "America's Drive-In" (via Odyssey). But did you know that the first SONIC was a root beer and burger joint called Top Hat Drive-In? It was opened in 1959 by Troy Smith near Shawnee, Oklahoma, who then opened a second drive-in after meeting his business partner, Charlie Pappe, who had visited the Shawnee location and wanted to be a part of this unique business opportunity. Soon, more locations opened, and the partners changed the name to SONIC, promising "Service at the Speed of Sound" (per SONIC's website).

The use of carhops to take orders from customers' cars was not uncommon when the restaurant first opened. A&W, which still has some locations offering carhop service, has been around since 1922, opening over three decades by the time SONIC's first drive-thru appeared. But this kind of service is a novelty in the 21st century. Today, you'll find SONIC's carhops delivering food to customers' vehicles and some are even wearing roller skates. Carhops are not required to work in skates, but those who choose to wear the wheels must take the company's Skating Training Program and prove they can safely skate and balance while carrying a tray of food and beverages, according to SONIC's website. They certainly deserve a tip, don't they?

SONIC makes tipping easier

It's not an easy job being a carhop, and it's generally uncommon for fast-food restaurant employees to receive gratuities. When was the last time you tipped a worker at McDonald's? And while SONIC's carhops are allowed to accept tips, customers may not be hip to it.

Up until 2019, patrons were only able to tip carhops in cash because electronic transfers for tips added through debit or credit cards were not enabled. A petition with over 33,000 signatures helped change that, and SONIC added that option for its customers. Today, the SONIC app allows grateful patrons to show their thanks by tipping, and according to QSR Magazine, they've raised over $12 million in tips since it was implemented. Another article in QSR Magazine explains that adding tipping capabilities to fast food restaurant apps may even solve the labor shortage by enticing people back into those jobs that are so hard to fill.

Is tipping a carhop necessary?

According to Indeed, the carhops at SONIC start at above minimum wage, whether or not they're on wheels. Employees receive some benefits, but because each SONIC is independently owned and operated, not all perks, such as free food, health, and retirement benefits, apply to all locations. SONIC's website has a disclaimer noting that "SONIC Drive-In restaurants are owned and operated by independent SONIC franchisees who determine their own benefits." It's unclear whether or not any benefits are available to part-time employees.

SONIC carhops deliver food to vehicles in all weather conditions and are expected to do so in a friendly manner and with a smile on their faces. With Restaurant Business Online announcing that SONIC will be increasing the number of alcoholic beverages in some of their locations, the carhops' jobs will probably become even more challenging, as it can be assumed they will need to ID customers to ensure a legal drinking age. Plus, the fast food joint already offers an insane number of drink combinations, we can only imagine the difficult decisions patrons will have once alcohol is involved.

The bottom line is most carhops work hard for their wages, and, while neither expected nor required, we bet tips would be very much appreciated.