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May 31, 2011 08:50 AM

Growing to hate Sonic. (Tipping, etc.)

I moved to the Dallas area a few years ago and was happy to discover the Sonic franchises having never lived within their areas before. I really enjoy their breakfasts, tater tots and their drinks especially at Happy Hour can be a really great deal with tons of options. However, I now have some concerns which may stop me from going there altogether and wanted to get your thoughts.

Some time back, I noticed that often times as I went to a drive up menu (not the drive thru,) I was often left having to ask for my change back when paying. This happened at more than one location more than one time. I then started doing some research and found out that Sonic does not pay its employees minimum wage. That, in fact, as opposed to other fast food places, their employees are paid similar to waiters/waitresses. Now, what made me most mad about this is that I had no idea and Sonic certainly does not go out of its way to advertise this. To be honest, I was not thrilled with the idea of leaving a tip for fast food, even if they did have to walk/skate 10 feet to my car from the door. (I do not want this topic to run over into a tipping discussion please.) So, rather than get into that issue, I just decided to only order through the drive thru. Unfortunately, I have found this “not wanting to give change” thing seems to encompass the drive thru as well (again, I have experienced this at more than one Sonic.) Now, I don’t consider myself a bad tipper but I do have a problem with tipping someone at the drive thru just as I would not tip if I went into a fast food restaurant and ordered at the counter. I was just not raised to believe this should be done.
Has anyone experienced these issues? Any ideas? I would write to Sonic if I thought it would help but I am currently frustrated and ready to start avoiding them completely.


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  1. I pay with a Sonic Card (which has no optional "tips" input line, same as the Starbucks card). I find this automatically does not incur loose change from a purchase.

    I know that the people(mostly teenagers) who work at Sonic in California are paid minimum wage to start, not waiter wages. Texas may be different.

    I like the food at Sonic, particularly breakfast, and will continue to patronize the business.

    1. I have never had this problem at Sonic.

      1. Personally, I would leave a tip at a fast food location if it provides car hop service...a buck or two depending on how cheerful the person was.....with that said,

        I fully understand your complaint and complete change should be given at all times regardless of the venue. You mention you did research about wages, but you do not cite the source of that information found. I highly doubt Sonics in any state are knowingly violating labor laws and paying their employees accordingly to what is required by any individual state statutes. It seems to me your complaint is location specific and probably the result of a bad apple or two.. I would address your complaint to corporate.....the contact information is on every receipt printed, and it also identifies the employee for each transaction. You can make an immediate call or follow-up online.

        4 Replies
        1. re: fourunder

          Okay, reading your posts I went back to try and get some additional information on the minimum wage thing.
          Unable to get an answer at 866 OK-SONIC, I ended up looking up a job opening at SONIC for car hop in Texas and called and was told that some car hops do not make minimum wage but rather “waitress salary” and it depends upon the store. So, not across the board but in some locations, some car hops do not make minimum wage. Surely, this cannot be a violation of the minimum wage law? I find it almost impossible to believe that such would not have been litigated way before now. Having said that can we really make any argument that a car hop is comparable to a waitor/waitress serving you in a sit down restaurant? Now here’s the bigger question? How do I know which employees make minimum and which do not?
          When I googled the minimum wage question there seems to be a few people out there who have sworn off SONIC for this reason.

          1. re: ronaldpedwards

            if you pick the food up at the counter they get minimum wage, minimal tip if any

            if you sit in your car or at a table and they bring the food to you, they most likely are depending on you tipping them for the service they are providing.

            there will be deviations, but 90% of the time this is the case. If the $1-3 makes you uncomfortable, order at the counter.

            1. re: ronaldpedwards

              As far as I know, restaurants have to make up the difference if the hourly wage+tips do not match or surpass minimum wage. Assuming the restaurant manager is following the law, car hops at the Sonics that concern you are making at least minimum wage, even if you do not tip. At least, that's how it worked for all of my friends who worked in food service in highschool and college. I don't know how universal this is, but I always assumed it applied everywhere in the US since minimum wage is a federal law.

          2. do i understand this right?
            your saying they dont give you your change back because they dont get paid they are stealing your change?

            i do usually give the carhop a couple of bucks...
            but no i dont tip at the drive thru or a walk up counter either...

            but ive never encountered any place not giving change back...

            4 Replies
            1. re: srsone

              I'm a carhop myself. I find it completely appropriate to tell the carhop to keep the change and give you the bills.

              Just some statics, I walk an average of 20,000 steps per shift, take out around 100 orders and make drinks, milkshakes, bag food, take orders and deliver it. When I've done all this work for a customer, and they want their $0.12 in change, I'm actually quite offended.

              But to concede, I do agree the carhop should never even ASK if you want your change. That's just rude- and if we get caught doing it at my store, we get fired.

              1. re: Carhop1997

                I've worked harder jobs than described and not gotten tips. However I was surprisd that in some states employers can pay tipped employees as little as $2-3 per hour. I am not fond of tipped entitlement but that is ridiculous.
                Catholics deliver the food and provide slight entertainment. They deserve a minimal tip. (My auto correct converted carhop to Catholics but I decided to leave it.)

                1. re: divadmas

                  I burst out laughing when I saw the Catolic reference- glad it was autocorrect.

                2. re: Carhop1997

                  I feel awful - I had NO IDEA carhops weren't getting minimum wage at Sonic!

              2. I don't live near a Sonic now - but if there was a place where I learned that it was possible that those working at the counter might not be making minimum wage, I wouldn't frequent the location. I can see equating a a car hop situation to a diner, and would tip accordingly - but drive thru or counter - that would bother me. Mostly because I would fear that lots of people would not tip in those situations (reasonably) and thus Sonic is intentionally putting it's employees in a situation to not get minimum wage and not educate patrons adequately.

                4 Replies
                1. re: cresyd

                  ..not making minimum wage...getting $2/hr

                  wrong. totally wrong.

                  research the topic before going ballistic.

                  1. re: PSRaT

                    Tipped workers can get that little though if tips don't bring amount up to minimum wage employers are supposed to pay more. This rule varies by state. However my understanding is many employers do not keep records and employees are afraid to complain and ask for the difference. You would think a big employer like sonic would be careful about labor laws but many big companies still break the law.

                    1. re: divadmas

                      it's a Federal Law. the minimum wage dollars per hour now varies by state / city / county but the requirement to get paid minimum wages does not.

                      1. re: PSRaT

                        It is federal law. And of course no one would break that.
                        Some states require full minimum wage for even tipped employees. However other states allow the federally allowed cash wages of as little as $2-3 per hour with tips to make up the difference.