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SONIC Drive In

Franchise

SONIC Drive-In is an American quick-serve restaurant franchise chain that serves carnival-like menu items such as hamburgers, French fries, onion rings, corn dogs and chili dogs, along with a highly customizable selection of both classic and contemporary beverage options. SONIC competes within its market by offering a unique fast food experience that includes parking in a covered drive-in stall and ordering from a speaker, then being served by a carhop on roller skates. Drive-thru lanes are also an option at most locations.

Facts & Figures

Liquid capital required
$1,000,000
Net worth required
$1,000,000 - $2,000,000
Investment
$865,000 - $3,641,300
Franchise fee
$22,500 - $45,000
Royalty
2.5% - 5.0%
Units in operation
3,588
Founded
1953
Franchising Since
1959

Overview

SONIC Franchise Formats Offered

SONIC Drive-In is, of course, famous for its flagship Drive-In restaurants. But beyond the drive-in format, SONIC offers franchisees a choice of specialized restaurant configurations that include: 

  • the Indoor Dining Model (ideal for cold, northeast geographies), 
  • the Travel Plaza Model (convenient for off-highway rest stops and other high vehicle traffic locations), 
  • the Counter-Service Model (for food courts, campuses, and similar locations), and 
  • the Conversion Model (for select existing restaurants). 

SONIC Franchise Opportunities - History

Although Troy Smith's first few attempts in the restaurant business failed, his perseverance would later lead him to open the most successful drive-in chain in the United States. 

In 1953, Smith opened the first Top Hat in Oklahoma to serve made to order hamburgers and hot dogs. After some inspiration and out-of-the-box thinking, Smith came up with the unique business design of covered drive-ins with intercom speakers, accompanied by carhops on roller skates. Smith partnered with Charlie Pappe in 1956 and the two of them opened a total of 4 Top Hats across Oklahoma. Due to the Top Hat brand name already being trademarked by another business, the partners came up with SONIC, which came from the chain's trademarked business motto "Service with the Speed of Sound". By 1973, 124 additional SONICs had been built and the SONIC food chain was sold to ten principal franchise owners. The 2,000th unit opened in 1999 and SONIC was ranked as a top franchise in the United States. 

In September 2018, SONIC was acquired in a $2.3 billion transaction by Inspire Brands, which is also the parent corporation to the Buffalo Wild Wings, Arby's, and Rusty Taco franchises (comprising a portfolio of nearly 5,000 franchise units across the world, excluding SONIC Drive-In).

SONIC Franchise Cost / Initial Investment / SONIC Franchise Income

Including a franchise fee of $25,000 to $45,000, it costs $865,000 to $3,641,300 to open a SONIC franchise. Optional indoor seating for your restaurant would increase the initial investment by an additional $125,000 to $275,000. The cost of securing your SONIC location's underlying real estate is an additional cost not included above. Franchisees can expect to pay an ongoing royalty of 2.5% to 5.0% of their location's gross sales, plus a 3.5 to 5.0% contribution to the brand's national advertising fund.

SONIC Franchise System Size and Composition

Today there are approximately 3,500 SONIC Drive-In locations across almost all 50 U.S. states (with no international locations), with 95% of those units franchised. Systemwide, SONIC restaurants produce around $4.5 billion in sales. The restaurants require around 25 employees to run (depending on the franchise format chosen).

SONIC's Parent Company

SONIC is owned by Atlanta's Inspire Brands, a privately held multi-brand restaurant franchise organization with a footprint approaching 10,000 units across its Arby's, Buffalo Wild Wings, SONIC Drive-In brands. Inspire is itself majority owned by private equity firm Roark Capital, an investor in and owner of multiple franchise brands.

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