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SONIC Drive-In

SONIC President Claudia San Pedro Shares How the Brand Rose Above Expectations in 2020

By Raj Prashad

SONIC President Claudia San Pedro recently joined Heather Haddon of the Wall Street Journal as part of the National Retail Federation 2021 Retail’s Big Show, where she shared how the brand pivoted during COVID and what the future of format innovation looks like for the drive-in.

San Pedro recalled how in the first days of the pandemic last March, SONIC made real-time decisions to create the right processes, policies and guidelines for operating through COVID.

“Every day our leadership team met with our food safety and health team to determine what the CDC was saying, identify what we needed to change at our drive-ins to enable ourselves to continue business operations and to make sure our team members and guests felt secure when they came on the lot,” San Pedro said.

“Ultimately, we provide jobs that provide financial security to our team members and their families. So, we worked to make sure that we could continue operations and serve our guests, in a way that is consistent with our values and that instills trust in us.”

While operations was ever-changing throughout 2020, SONIC was able to continue serving up mouthwatering burgers, craveable shakes and shareable snacks at the speed of sound thanks to its tech innovation and distinct drive-in format. 

“What we were able to do is showcase our order-ahead app and contactless payment capabilities,” San Pedro said. “Contactless ordering became a very important principle for many guests in the landscape. As we leaned into that, we were able to significantly increase the number of sales and our rewards base that came in through that app. And as we look at going into 2021 and maintaining and increasing that loyalty among that consumer base, it is certainly going to be by continuing to showcase not only how you can access our brand and have that great experience in the car, but access the brand in the way that you want to access it. So you can come onto the lot and order at the stall, you can go through the drive-thru or can place an order ahead.”

In 2021, SONIC has plans to continue leveraging technology through updates like offering order ahead from the browser of a desktop computer in addition to the mobile app, mobile tipping through order ahead and additional expanded features.

SONIC is also ready to build off a successful 2020 that saw the brand launch its new drive-in prototype, highlighting new branding, while offering varying formats to fit any real estate site.

“One of the great advantages of being part of Inspire Brands is that we’ve been able to do a lot more testing on format innovation in a few key areas,” San Pedro said. “One of those is not only how can we retrofit the appropriate sized building with the stalls and drive-thru for different real estate site sizes, but how can we improve the drive-thru experience to make sure that we’re meeting those guest expectations? Non-traditional is going to be another area. And then the other piece I would share as kind of a sneak peek is SONIC is one of the few large brands, that’s only domestic. And so one of the other advantages that we have with Inspire is that we’re going to be going international over the next couple of years.”

To read more about San Pedro’s appearance on NRF 2021 – Chapter 1, visit

To learn about franchising opportunities with SONIC, go to