Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wheels are turning in Sonic's new thinking

Don’t tell Sonic Drive Ins that skating carhops are some old-timey gimmick. As executives recently explained to investors, putting servers on skates is an important element of the chain’s revised business strategy, along with revamps of menu classics like burgers, hot dogs and ice cream.

Sonics where meals are delivered to cars by roller skaters score considerably higher on guest satisfaction surveys than do units where the servers are flat-footed, explained CEO Cliff Hudson. Customers are not only more pleased, but visit more often and tend to spend more when they do. “We do see a sales differentiation,” he said.

Profits are also higher, though Hudson didn’t reveal if that was a function of better margins or merely the higher expenditures.
“So it's higher level of transactions, higher sales, higher profitability,” Hudson said.

He noted that more than half of all company-run Sonics currently feature skating carhops, and that “just below 50%” of franchises offer the service.

“WE continue to grow this,” Hudson said. “It's an opportunity for continued improvement and the customer experience and one that we think further differentiates us versus the competition.”

During Monday’s conference call with financial analysts, Hudson also noted that Sonic will take the silver dome off a revised hamburger this fall. It plans to advertise an improved, bulked-up Coney, or oversized hotdog, he indicated.

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