Sonic Drive-In has expanded its test of a remote ordering system that integrates with the quick-service concept’s unique carhop service format.

The app-based setup enables customers to order from the closest Sonic via their smartphones and set the time of pickup. They then pull into one of the restaurant’s parking slots, and the food is brought to them at the appointed time.

sonic drive-in app

In many respects, said executives, Sonic’s retro drive-in format makes advance ordering easier than it might be for a concept offering traditional counter service. Orders are already routed in sequence to the kitchen, and runners, sometimes on roller skates, lug the items to the car on a tray that clips to the vehicle’s side window. It’s essentially curbside delivery, with far more parking spaces available.

The tests were expanded to all 27 or so units in a single market about three weeks ago, after being tried in a few isolated stores, CEO Cliff Hudson told financial analysts Tuesday evening. Headquarters anticipates expanding to two or three additional trade areas during April to see how the service flies with various types of customers, he revealed.

He suggested that a systemwide rollout would be completed in the fourth quarter if all goes according to plan.

The ability to field preorders should translate into greater convenience for customers, said Hudson. He noted that the system, which is built on Sonic’s new app, will also lay the groundwork for an entry into delivery if the concept decides to add that option, but he stressed that no move is imminent.

Hudson declined to provide sales figures from the test, noting that it’s less than a month old. But, he commented, “The technology is working as expected. Customer complaints have been minimal. The service time to customers are averaging just less than two minutes, from the guests’ arrival at the restaurant till they receive their food, and more often than not we can actually deliver to customers in less than 90 seconds.”

The digital initiative is one of several new undertakings to bolster sales. Sonic is in the process of simplifying its menu by narrowing the listed variations of certain products, primarily ice cream dishes and beverages, said President Claudia San Pedro.

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