Sonic Boom

It’s the week before my gallbladder operation and I want a few last hurrahs before my digestive system goes into hibernation. So my friend Ray I pull into a Sonic off Route 46.

“I’ve never been to one of these places before,” I say.

“You’ll love it,” Ray says as we pull into the lot. “The shakes are really good here.”

Sonic is a throwback to those carhop restaurants from the Fifties. You park your car next to a kiosk, place your order over an intercom and then a guy or girl on roller-skates delivers your food. In the old days the carhops used to hang a tray on your car door. But Sonic has decided to forgo this tradition, probably because they don’t want the liability headaches. I can’t blame them. These days a simple dent costs a thousand bucks to fix at a body shop.

‘Welcome to Sonic,” a chirpy voice says over the intercom. “What would you like to order?” Ray and I order two Sonic Burgers, French fries, onion rings and two vanilla shakes. Clogged arteries here we come.

“You’ve been here before,” I say to Ray. “What do you tip the carhop?”

“You’re the expert,” he says smugly. “You tell me.”

Even though I just wrote a book about tipping I realize I don’t know what to do. I don’t beat myself up however – tipping is a vast and mysterious topic and I couldn’t cover every contingency.

“I honestly don’t know,” I say. “Give me a minute.”

Take-out delivery people told me that they want a fifteen to twenty percent tip or the cost of a gallon of gas – whichever’s greater. But a Sonic waiter’s on skates and travelling a hundred feet max. So that’s out. They’re also not taking the order so they’re not like a traditional restaurant server. Tipping at fast food places is usually verboten, though not always, and Sonic is fast food. And they’re not like buffet servers who deserve a tip as well. What to do? What to do? I crunch all my gratuity experience in my head.

“Ten percent,” I finally say.

“You sure?” Ray asks. “On fast food?”

“There is a service element involved. And can you imagine skating in the rain or snow?”

“But it ain’t raining now.”

“Tipping in a place like this is optional,” I say. “But I’d say these kids aren’t making a lot so a tip would be nice.”

“You’re leaving the tip then,” Ray says. “You’re the tipping guru.”

“Thanks a lot.”

If you’re a guru does that mean you get to have concubines? You know, like that guy from the Waco?”

“Please don’t compare me to that guy.”

“I can see you living in a compound with some groupies,” Ray says. “You were in the seminary. You could pull it off. Found some kind of religion!”

“The tax-exempt status would be nice. But I think tipping falls short of the criteria for a religion.”

“Gimme a break,” Ray says. “If Scientologists say they’re disembodied spirits from outer space why can’t there be a religion about tipping??

“Give it a rest,” I say. “I don’t want to get sued.”

The carhop arrives with our food. The bill is around twenty bucks so I give the girl three dollars. “Thank you, sir” she says brightly. “Appreciate it.”

“No problem.”

“That was more than ten percent,” Ray says.

“The girl seemed to be struggling with her skates, poor thing.”

We eat our food while listening to a ballgame on the radio. The food isn’t bad. After Ray and I finish our meal we dump our wrappers and cups into the trash and drive away.

“That hit the spot,” Ray says.

“Uh-huh,” I say, rubbing my belly. Boy, I’m going to pay for this.

“Wait a minute,” Ray says, wriggling in his seat. “Wait…..”

“What?” I say. “Something the matter?” It’s then that Ray releases a fart of epic proportions.

“Jesus Ray!” I say, lowering my car window. “What the hell?”

“That my friend was a Sonic Boom.”


Comments

Sonic Boom — 35 Comments

  1. Here in the South, Sonic still hangs the little tray on the side of the car. :)

    I love Sonic, but it doesn’t love me back all that much. I have to limit my intake. (Sonic Boom is pretty spot on!)

    Oh, and I always tip the delivery person – usually $1 if I’m just getting a snack (which often means a 100% or more tip) or $2-$3 if I’m getting a full meal/meals.

  2. Sonic makes a great Cherry Limades and they have some decent flavors to add to your soda… back in College I was addicted to vanilla Dr. Peppers.

    Seriously though, did you just throw together an awkward Sonic tip post so you could post a fart joke? Sounds like someone may be posting and medicating at the same time.

  3. I had never been to Sonic until last year (we didn’t have them in NJ when I lived there) and the closest one to Seattle is still a 30 minute (minimum) drive, so it’s a special treat. But the reason I go is not for the food, it’s the cherry limeade slush. Heaven in a cup. A giant, giant cup.

  4. Well you did say you were going to pay for eating the Sonic and you did pay. As for the fart joke after all you are male, and it was a good setup.

  5. Did your doctor not explain about fats and gallstones? Did you learn nothing from the pain and throwing up part of having gallstones before the surgery? Avoid fat. Avoid excessive fat. Without a gallbladder you’ll still feel it when you indulge with Sonic, fois gras, butter, etc. It’s too late to eliminate the gallstones, but eat naturally occurring lecithin. Apples. (The old adage about an apple a day has some truth.) From a fellow sufferer who is minus a gallbladder and still learning.

  6. I had six weeks between when I was diagnosed with gallstones (I had passed out in the bathroom at the SF Opera House and was rushed to the emergency room). No fun food for me for a last hurrah. You’re lucky. But I have – a good almost 15 years later – reclaimed a certain amount of my In n Out Burger eatin’ again. You can go back to eating junk food but it will get to you – remember what I wrote before. Make sure you know every single bathroom in the area because after 30 minutes or less you’re gonna be pluggin’ up the toilet.

  7. Worked at Sonic for about a year… we’re really okay with a $1 tip. Frankly we run around 300+ orders each shift (my record is something like 600 in a shift) so $1 or $0.50 would be shiny.

    One discrepancy: we usually ARE the ones taking your order via the intercom, they don’t have enough people staffed to just take orders and just run them. Sometimes we get to help make drinks and bag food, too. It’s super awesome.

    We all figured if we could get $0.50 tips per order we’d all be making bank at Sonic. xD I generally tip $1-2.

    Yeah that was a srs bzniz comment. Sorry. >.>; I’ve been reading this blog forever, finally actually commented.

  8. Cute post Steve
    So, what would your friend have tipped since he’s a regular at Sonic?
    It sounds from the reaction of the carhop that she doesn’t always get a tip – I suppose people just treat it like fast food huh?

  9. I hate to tell you, but I think you’re wrong on this one. I was just at a local car-hop that also has about eight seats inside and overheard the waitress complaining about how some customers don’t tip when they get car service. She mentioned that she makes below minimum wage, something like $3.50 per hour. I know that this place was different in that you could also sit in the restaurant and eat, but my guess is that most car hops pay under minimum wage with the expectation that their waitresses will be tipped. They don’t make large profits and tend to be staffed entirely staffed with local teenagers, so I imagine they’d pay as little as they can get away with (even when many, if not most, customers getting car service tip badly or not at all). I always tip 15%. When the bill is $20 max, I figure I can afford it.

  10. I used to tip at Sonic when I had to pay in cash, but now they take by card right where I order and when the carhop brings the receipt there is no place to write in a tip! If I’ve got some cash on me I’ll tip…but those occasions are far and few between.

  11. I’ve been waiting table for 7 years now and have come up with a general philosophy that I follow myself, religiously. If you can’t afford to tip 20% (provided the service is good) regardless of whether you’re in a fancy restaurant, carhop or getting delivery, then you can’t afford to eat out. Heat up some Ramen and save up for next time. 10%, even at a carhop, is a garbage tip, especially for someone who claims to be the “guru.”

  12. Q: What’s the difference between a tavern and an elephant fart?

    A: A tavern is a bar room, and an elephant fart is a BARRROOOOM!!!

  13. Ray sounds like what my mother would have called “a bad influence.” The best kind of friend.

    Ten percent for a food runner is about what I do. Fifteen if they bus during the meal or refill drinks. Pizza delivery guys get 20 percent.

  14. I guess I’m an easy mark. I waited table at a hotel/children’s camp in the Laurentians the summer after high school, and I always tip 20%.

  15. Sonic boom?
    There’s a Sonic a few blocks from my house. We usually hit it when we’ve been doing yard work and don’t want to get dressed better, so we sit dirty in our car and eat. Not bad.

  16. WRONG exWaiter the carhops and the manager on duty are taking your orders. TO complicate things they can make like 20 THOUSAND variations on a coke when you factor in all their flavor options -they have a separate flavor tower beside the soda station -the Sonic across the street from my apt has diet Coke, Sprire and I think Dr. Pepper even. I pity those car hops. Corporate even requires them to report all tips.

  17. I agree, please tip your Sonic carhop, even if you’re just getting a Coke (for some reason, their soft drinks are the best). I decided a while back I’d go with a 50-cent minimum tip, which, on a $1.50 drink, is 33 percent. I tip 17-20 percent on anything over $3.00: sales tax is here is a ridiculous 8.517 percent, so I double the tax, round the resulting amount UP to the next quarter, and usually the tip is received with what appears to be heartfelt gratitude. That leads me to believe the carhops often do not receive tips at Sonic, and the tips they do receive are miserly. A dollar on a Coke is one thing, but I think a lot of Sonic customers tip a dollar on a fifteen-dollar order, which is not so great.

  18. If there isn’t a tip line on the credit card receipt, then tipping is definitely optional. I’m willing to bet the tips that the employee receives are also not being reported to the IRS and they are not being taxed on them.

    Sonic does pay their employees minimum wage. The employees who are making your food and the people who are delivering it are likely making the same amount. That means that tipping is optional but it’s still a nice thing to do. I’m sure there are lots of people I tip out of kindness and not necessity.

  19. Seriously, how did you get away with eating that? I ate Long John Silvers and got sent to the emergency room to remove my gall bladder. Sucked, lost a job because of it and never had that problem ever again. But how did you get away with eating that?

  20. I asked the manager of a Sonic about what is a fair tip for the car hops.
    He seemed bewildered by my question , but he said 1 dollar for every 10 bucks or in other words 10%. He stated further , tipping is more appreciated when the order is for a car full of people. Those orders often exceed $20 to $30 dollars.

  21. The carhops actually do take the orders on the call box. They also make all desserts, not the cooks. I think that tipping 10% is fair, but most of the Sonic drive-ins only pay carhops around three dollars plus tips. The one I worked at in High School gave us minimum wage plus tips, but that was only because they were the second busiest in the nation.

  22. I almost fell out of my chair to read that you have never been to a Sonic before! I live in southern Missouri and I am pretty sure there is a Sonic every few stop lights here! Hope you enjoyed it :) they have the best mozzerella sticks in the world

  23. As a former carhop at a similar throwback restaurant, I can explain why they no longer use window trays. When these restaurants first came up with the idea, cars were very square and the windows were for all intents and purposes vertical. As cars have been designed more aerodynamically, the windows curve and homemade rootbeers in perfectly frosted mugs fall off the trays into the customers’ laps. Thankfully, this only happened to me once, but it was about a quart of rootbeer on an expensive looking business suit. Liability shmiability. It’s the dry-cleaning bills they’re afraid of!

  24. I work at a Taqueria in Midtown Manhattan; I help at the counter, and occasionally run deliveries for office buildings in the areas during lunch, and whether people eat-in, order take-out, or call for a delivery they seem to be oblivious about tipping. Sure, I understand that it seems like a Chipotle and people don’t usually tip at fast-food restaurants; but I really can’t stand behind not tipping, or giving a crappy tip for a delivery. Two weeks ago someone ordered $150 worth of food, and only left me 5%; I was tempted to tell the person to keep their money. The worst part, is that the owner of the restaurant (who has been a chef in the city for 11 years) has been trying to convince me for weeks, that I should be happy with the tip I got, giving an awful example involving different priced bottles of wine and giving the same amount of tip.

    Like so many other people have said, if you can’t afford to tip, don’t buy it.

  25. It is ridiculous to tip a delivery person a percentage of the cost of the meal. A fair tip is one that gives the worker a reasonable income. Delivery people in NYC earn $10-15 an hour to deliver 2-3 jobs an hour. A $5 tip for food delivery is reasonable. For a Sonic, $1 is reasonable, again based on how many jobs the waiter is doing a shift.

  26. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog. An excellent read. I’ll certainly be back.

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