Summer is prime road trip season, and whether you’re on the way to the beach with friends or en route to visit your in-laws, there will invariably be trips to the drive-thru along the way.
Sonic Drive In, then, has picked an apt time to further roll out its order-ahead mobile strategy, which America’s Drive In shared more details of this week on its earnings call. Based on that information, the company could arguably turn its slightly declining sales around with its unique mobile ordering strategy.
Consumers largely expect restaurants to offer mobile ordering of some kind nowadays. But whereas much of this demand centers on delivery, in the world of fast food, restaurant chains are also using mobile to cut down on drive-thru wait times and give customers more choice in terms of when and where they can pick up their food.
Sonic already offers a slightly unique guest experience in that customers most often park in stalls and get food delivered straight to the car. Other fast food chains are now trying this approach, but Sonic’s been at it since the 1950s, which means they entered the mobile game with an already efficient direct-to-car-window delivery process.
At its earnings call earlier this week, Sonic Drive-In announced plans to make its mobile ordering available across the U.S. by the end of this summer. The company kicked off its mobile ordering initiative earlier this year in their native Oklahoma; 20 percent of all Sonic locations now offer mobile ordering. The plan is to have its mobile ordering platform implemented across the company by the end of summer.
With Sonic’s app, customers order and pay ahead, then select their desired store location and pickup time. Upon arriving at said location, a guest simply parks at one of the stalls and an employee brings the food out. What could give Sonic a distinct advantage here is that its locations are architected specifically for curbside pickup. Instead of squeezing into a parking space, guests pull into a roomy stall. The system immediately notifies the restaurant of their arrival and exact stall location, which presumably saves time for travelers wanting to get back on the road as fast as possible.
Eventually, mobile customers will also be able to communicate with Sonic’s POPS system, the digital screens in place at most Sonic locations. At some point, these screens will be able to greet customers by name and suggest add-on items. New types of cashless payments are also likely on the way.
Sonic will face plenty of competition, though. Curbside pickup is the new drive-thru, according to many, with heavyweights like McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A both offering the feature to mobile users. Dunkin’ gives its customers their own drive-thru lane. And apparently Taco Bell offers “the most seductive experience” when it comes to mobile ordering. But again, these chains lack the historical range of choices Sonic offers when it comes to hungry guests and their automobiles. That might be enough for Sonic to pull ahead of the competition by the end of summer.