With over 3500 restaurants located in 46 US states, you’ll probably be familiar with Sonic drive-in fast foods chains.
With a turnover of $5.4 billion in 2021, they are one of the most popular drive-in restaurants in the country.
If you’ve been to a Sonic drive-in, you’ll be familiar with their carhop service where the waiter or waitress delivers your food to your car (often on skates).
But you may be wondering whether you need to tip your carhop at Sonic. It’s an important question as it’s not usually customary to tip at other fast-food joints.
But is Sonic different?
Here we explore the customary practice for tipping at Sonic and look at other important factors like Sonic carhop’s hourly rate and the cost of a meal at Sonic.
We’ve also spoken to some Sonic employees to get the inside scoop.
Keep reading to find out more…
Do You Tip a Sonic Carhop? The Short Answer
It’s not customary or required to tip a carhop but many people do as they earn close to minimum wage and do slightly more than your typical fast-food server.
What Do Sonic Carhops Earn?
One of the main considerations people give when deciding whether and how much to tip is how much the recipient likely earns.
Fast-food workers are notoriously some of the worst-paid people in the country but does that extend to Sonic carhops?
We’ve had a look at the data from Talent.com and have found that a Sonic carhop earns a median annual salary of $19,744 or $10.13 per hour.
According to Indeed, the average hourly rate in the USA is $29.81, meaning that the average hourly rate at Sonic is well below the US average.
On this basis, you may consider that Sonic carhops are so inadequately paid that it makes sense to tip them.
Indeed, this is similar to the conclusion we reached when looking at whether to tip caterers who also receive a below-average wage.
How Much is a Meal at Sonic?
The food at Sonic is priced slightly above average.
Expect to pay around $6 – $8 for a burger and $9-11 for a combo meal with a drink and fries.
Milkshakes and slushies are priced at around $3.50 – $4.50.
In contrast, a Big Mac Meal is likely to set you back around $6.
In reality, you’re paying for the extra service (i.e. the meal being brought to you by a carhop on skates).
Still, given the average cost of a meal in the US is $18 per person, the prices at Sonic are still reasonable and represent precisely what you’d expect for a fast-food joint with a slightly elevated level of service.
How Much to Tip at Sonic?
The expected and customary level of tip across the US is 10-20% of the total value of the goods purchased.
Applying that to a burger combo meal at Sonic, you would normally tip a dollar or two. Obviously, you will want to increase this if you’re buying more than one meal.
However, you should note that Sonic carhops won’t necessarily expect to be tipped so it’s unlikely you’ll be looked on unfavorably if you don’t.
It isn’t generally customary to tip fast-food workers at all in the US, although it is when it comes to tipping servers in restaurants where you’re receiving a full service at your table.
If you don’t want to tip 10-20% then most carhops will be happy to receive any amount, although we advise against tipping less than $0.50 which begins to look rather cheap.
To get an idea of how much Sonic carhops generally receive we spoke to 3 current employees who said the following about their daily tips:
|Sonic Carhop||Daily Tips|
|Employee 1||“My average is around $9 per day and around 25% of people tip”|
|Employee 2||“On average I receive around $5 per day and around 20% of people tip”|
|Employee 3||“I get about $11 a day in tips and around 30% of customers tip”|
As you can see, the average daily amount of tips was around $5 – $10 out of the people we spoke to with 20-30% of customers tipping as an estimate.
This is actually way below the average amount of tips a server at a restaurant gets. According to Mashed, servers generally receive tips of $45-$100 on weekdays and $100-$250 on weekends.
We suspect this is because carhops fall somewhere between fast-food workers who don’t normally get tips and restaurant workers who are expected to supplement their income with tips.
How Should You Tip?
You’ll be presented with many different options when it comes to paying at Sonic including:
- Debit/credit card
- Android/Apple/Samsung Pay
But how should you pay a tip at Sonic?
We always recommend paying with cash where possible. This guarantees that the carhop will receive the cash, whereas paying by electronic means does not and may end up in the restaurant’s bank rather than the carhop’s pocket.
Can You Leave a Tip on the Sonic App?
We downloaded the app to investigate but couldn’t see any option to leave a tip.
Again, this shows that it’s best to leave a tip in cash if you can when you pay for your meal.
When Should and Shouldn’t You Tip at Sonic?
There will certainly be times when you should consider tipping and we’ll take you through them:
- If the carhop has been professional and polite;
- If the carhop has gone beyond the call of duty;
- If it’s around the holidays.
You should also consider withholding a tip if:
- The carhop is rude or impolite;
- Your order is wrong or there are items missing;
- The service is slow;
- The food is of poor quality.
While the consensus is that carhops don’t expect to be tipped, we found from our research that tipping is fairly common at Sonic, albeit most carhops only received around $10 per shift on average.
We think it is in good conscience to tip at Sonic simply because carhops receive close to minimum wage and they do actually do more than standard fast-foot workers. Some of them even learn to skate to serve your food to you.
Indeed, this is the same conclusion we reached when looking at whether to tip at Starbucks – it’s not required but it’s a nice gesture.
The other important thing to consider is that tipping at Sonic isn’t going to break the bank. While a meal there is slightly more expensive than, say, McDonald’s, it’s still well below the average cost of dining out at a restaurant more formally.
We suggest 10-20% of the bill is good etiquette but even a buck or two is likely to be well received by a carhop at Sonic, especially when most people don’t actually tip them.
Remember that you can feel justified in withholding a tip if you think the service you’ve received has been poor. Conversely, you may feel like dipping further into your pocket if the service you’ve received has been exceptional.