Tipping at Sonic
June 25, 2008 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Do you tip your car hop at Sonic Drive-thru? If so how much?

Should I tip a different amount when they come all the way out to my car compared to when they just walk to the drive through part?

I hate going there, because I never know if I am tipping the right amount.
posted by Beaufort to Work & Money (43 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't tip them, no, although I tend to be really generous with tipping in service restaurants. Frankly it never occurred to me. But I'll be watching this thread with some interest.
posted by penduluum at 12:31 PM on June 25, 2008

I never thought about tipping at Sonic unless my brother recently looked at me aghast for not giving anything to the carhop. So I've started tipping a dollar, which is somewhere between 12 and 20%, considering what I usually order.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:34 PM on June 25, 2008

argh until my brother....
I should point out that my brother doesn't have any particular expertise in this area, and I am open to being convinced to go back to my old stingy ways.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:36 PM on June 25, 2008

I give a buck or two. NFI if this is an "appropriate" amount, but I do know that anybody who works as a carhop at Sonic is going to appreciate $2 a lot more than I do.
posted by Project F at 12:37 PM on June 25, 2008

If I'm driving in, I tip the same way I'd tip any other waitperson. If I'm driving thru, I don't tip.
posted by box at 12:38 PM on June 25, 2008

Back when I lived near one and went to the drive-thru, I used to give 'em a buck in addition to whatever coins I got back in change. However, I once had a bill of $9 and change and I received back a $10 bill and some coins. I took that as a sign that no tip was expected.

And I'm with you--Sonic's drive-thru is confusing as hell. I don't tip at any other fast food drive-thru and I'm a generous tipper in general.
posted by mullacc at 12:38 PM on June 25, 2008

I usually tip a dollar. But only if they remember my mints!!
posted by pearlybob at 12:43 PM on June 25, 2008

Well, first off my understanding is that tipping carhops goes back to the drive-in days of the 1950s. I recall back in the 1980s my mom tipped at Sonic. Over the past several years I've also become a little more enlightened about supporting people earning near minimum wage. A dollar is no skin off my back, and I've learned not to feel weird about tipping.

So... at Sonic, what I give usually varies from 50 cents to a dollar. I pick that range because I think $1 is generous enough for carhop duty. On the other hand anything less than 50 cents is kind of pointless unless I'm just getting a drink.

However, I think realistically I'm in the minority. A few times I've dealt with carhops that seem baffled at a tip, and from what I've seen Sonic often sets up in subprime areas where the area is locally depressed and people barely have money to eat there. So I'm inclined to say that tipping is not common and you could probably get away with not doing so.

At those newfangled drive-thru windows, though, all bets are off and it works just like the McDonalds. Though a couple of times using them I've had a carhop come out of the building and walk 20 feet to bring me my order. Talk about splitting hairs on a dilemma.
posted by crapmatic at 12:47 PM on June 25, 2008

I've never seen one with a drive-thru, so as I'm always at a drive-up, I generally tip $1.

If they're on roller skates I would be inclined to tip more, if I have it.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:52 PM on June 25, 2008

I never thought about it until I knew someone who worked as a carhop. She said she made hella money off tips. And I thought, "Wha? People tip at Sonic?" So I tipped carhops for a while, but I never knew what an appropriate amount was. Now I rarely have cash on me, and I pay with a credit card at the menu board, so I don't tip. The carhops never seem put out by it or anything.
posted by Shohn at 12:58 PM on June 25, 2008

In a long argument with a friend about this, we realized we didn't tip McDonalds staff and Sonic is sort of the same thing. If it wasn't an almost national chain but a local place, I'd probably tip like I'd do in a sit down restaurant. Part of my pro-tip argument with my friend was the carhop brought mints in addition to the food that didn't win her over. Back in the cash days, I'd maybe tip the coins back or a dollar.

Ever since they put in those credit card readers, I use those exclusively so there's no money changing hands at the car. Usually the carhop drops off the drink and is out of there in a flash not appearing to expect a tip. And like mullacc said, they don't make change like tip expecting places do.
posted by birdherder at 1:01 PM on June 25, 2008

I only tip at Sonic if there is a local group carhopping as a fund raiser, and then only if I happen to have cash.
posted by owtytrof at 1:02 PM on June 25, 2008

I tip during the summer because working there during the summer is hellish, by all accounts.
posted by jedicus at 1:06 PM on June 25, 2008

I historically gave a dollar or just my loose change from the order. Now that they have installed the credit terminals at each drive up, I never have cash to give them. The Sonic I tend to frequent now they have the carhops wear skates, so I will dig in the car seat for some kind of reward for them. That takes talent.
posted by phytage at 1:08 PM on June 25, 2008

How to Tip Like a Gentleman (with comment from former sonic carhop).

Random thread about tipping at Sonic.

Another random thread about tipping at Sonic.

Google is your friend. :)
posted by GPF at 1:11 PM on June 25, 2008

I tip the carhops a dollar. I was at a Sonic this weekend while my mother was in town visiting and wasn't going to tip because they forgot my order and it took over 15 minutes to finally get food. Mom got all over my ass for thinking of stiffing the carhop as it wasn't his fault the kitchen screwed up.

Mom was a waitress for many years. If she says tip, I tip.
posted by COD at 1:22 PM on June 25, 2008

Before I lived in Seattle (Blast you, Pacific Northwest! The only thing that separates you from perfection is the lack of Sonic, Cracker Barrel, and Chick-fil-A!) I frequented my local Sonic at least 4 times a week for drinks.

I would tip 'ever-so-often' simply for the fact that I could not justify tipping on a $1.23 drink. It helped that I recognized the waitresses, and they recognized me, so this strategy might not owrk for everyone.

If I purchased a meal, I would tip $0.50-$1.00 depending on the order/size of the group.

Also, remember that they are carrying your food (or skating, if your Sonic was like mine) 30 60 feet, round trip. 60 feet... to carry something... yet people tip them as much %age a they would a waiter/waitress in a restaurant? Yikes. Not smart money management OR a great message to send to American workers/businesses.

You must keep in mind: Servers in most states are making minimum wage (in some states they make up to $8.50 an hour) plus tips. Many of my friends from high school made up to $18 an hour. That's not to say 'quit tipping'... simply to reassure you that by not tipping on every.single.order, you won't drive them into poverty.

Plus (and this touches on the scene from Reservoir Dogs) a tip should be just that: a tip.. a bonus. However, we all need to be congratulated for simply 'doing our job' and doing it with a smile (I've tipped people in all food/service/entertainment capacities simply for being so darn nice.

Anyhow... for what it's worth (from a former grocery store 'sacker' who worked for tips) tip them if they impress you... don't if they don't
posted by bamassippi at 1:22 PM on June 25, 2008

I always figured that if someone brings you food, you give them a tip.

So if this someone who brings you food happens to be at Sonic, why wouldn't you tip?

In fact, if they are leaving the building to bring it to your car so you don't have to get off your ass, the tip should be doubled.
posted by gyusan at 1:25 PM on June 25, 2008

Strange, I actually just ran into this issue last weekend. While I waited for my bag of deliciousness to arrive my passenger and I discussed this exact issue. We came to the conclusion that you should tip, and were prepared to do so. However, the carhop gave me my $5 change as a $5 bill and then immediately sped off before I had a chance, so I guess Sonic (or at least this particular Sonic) does not expect you to do so. We did not get any mints.
posted by jtfowl0 at 1:26 PM on June 25, 2008

The Sonic here is the local high school hangout, owned by the mother of one of my daughters' friends, and the kids she employs don't get tipped. But they are also all kids in a solidly middle to upper-middle income area and not supporting families.
posted by notashroom at 1:35 PM on June 25, 2008

i tip sometimes, sometimes not. use the card reader way too often which makes tipping less often and mostly tip the carhop that appears to have been born before cars were invented.

however, at the driver thru, i do not tip because i do not order food or anything else that might require me to pull over and have them bring it to me because they can't get it ready in time to hand it out the window. Because it would be rude to order 15 hickory burgers in the driver thru line and hold up said line when all the person in the car behind you wants is a freakin' cherry limeade. Not that i have sonic rage or anything.
posted by domino at 1:41 PM on June 25, 2008

Yes, every time - I've never driven through though, and probably wouldn't tip if I was driving through. Around $2-$3, even if I am paying by credit card I make sure to have cash for the tip.
posted by KAS at 1:44 PM on June 25, 2008

For just a coke or creampie shake or such, I give them the max of the change or 20%. How often do you get the chance to make someone's day marginally more pleasant for $0.70 U.S.?
posted by ormondsacker at 1:44 PM on June 25, 2008

We do not tip at drive-throughs - the food is handed directly to us, by someone who was themselves handed a bag of fries and a Coke. It's cash-bag-change.

We do tip at sit-down restaurants, where someone brings food to us across several feet of distance.

Now, allow me to Mr. Pink this a little bit - we don't really tip for someone making change, or handing us a bag of food. And even in drive-throughs, that food still gets walked a bit, just like anywhere else, but we do not see the walking.

I do not know how bellhops are paid, versus grill cooks, etc., so perhaps that less-than-minimum wage bit kicks in for bellhops as "servers." I am not sure if it does for a grill cook.

What we are tipping for in a restaurant, to my mind, is service: someone comes back to refill our water, to check to see if the food is alright, to see if we want dessert, split up the check, get us extra silverware since the baby dropped it, and so forth. It's keeping an eye on our table and dealing with our dumb little requests, not walking a round trip forty feet.

None of that happens at Sonic. It's strictly a one-off transaction (cash-bag-change), not a series of smaller transactions, checking up on our dining experience and correcting any mistakes. People mostly drive away with their food. I have seen a few stay - I have yet to see a bellhop rap on someone's window and ask if the customer wants dessert, if the burger was properly-cooked, etc. Logically, one would not tip a Sonic bellhop.

... I still do it anyway, but keep it in the 12% to 15% range. Mostly I get puzzled looks.
posted by adipocere at 1:50 PM on June 25, 2008

I never tipped at Sonic or even considered that there was even the slightest expectation to do so until one day when after getting my change back and thanking the carhop she gave me a dirty look followed by a sneer. It's not enough to make me want to tip at Sonic but it's enough to make me choose to minimize the business I give them.

In talking to people about tipping at Sonic, I've come across two groups: those who feel a tip is mandatory and those who see it as the height of ridiculousness. The strange thing is that I've been witness to the confrontation between the two sects about five times and in each the reaction to learning the other exists is shock and disbelief, like when you were a kid and for the first time learned that some boys would rather kiss boys than girls. How the sides form without any knowledge of the other is a mystery. What social factors drive people to tip at Sonic? Do they all go to the same church?
posted by bunnytricks at 1:53 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I always tip at sonic - BUT blasted new swipe your own card from your car machines...they do not let you add a tip. So that being said Yes, I generally tip a dollar unless i'm paying by card and have no cash - sorry carhops.
posted by doorsfan at 2:06 PM on June 25, 2008

Of course you tip them. And I have had a carhop come back and check to see if we wanted dessert.
posted by MegoSteve at 2:17 PM on June 25, 2008

I rarely tip at Sonic because the carhops aren't paid on a waiter's scale, they're paid like retail employees. Which isn't to say that they're rich, but nobody ever tipped me when I was checking groceries.
posted by richrad at 2:28 PM on June 25, 2008

I rarely tip at Sonic because the carhops aren't paid on a waiter's scale, they're paid like retail employees. Which isn't to say that they're rich, but nobody ever tipped me when I was checking groceries.

In Texas, apparently, they are paid on the waiter's scale ... unless $3.25 an hour is the minimum. Gawd I hope not.
posted by gyusan at 2:35 PM on June 25, 2008

In Texas, apparently, they are paid on the waiter's scale ... unless $3.25 an hour is the minimum. Gawd I hope not.

In Arizona, the carhops are also paid at the same rate that waiters are, so I tip a dollar, usually.
posted by lemonwheel at 2:51 PM on June 25, 2008

Okay, well, for the record: I'll gladly tip them in Arizona or Texas or wherever else they're paid slave-wages.
posted by richrad at 2:53 PM on June 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

This question could easily lend itself to sociological study. I'm with Joe Cabot, put in a buck and shut up. It's not any kind of logical argument, I just think ya do it cuz ya should.
posted by dosterm at 2:55 PM on June 25, 2008

From what former employees say about them, working at Sonic is soul sucking and they don't pay shit. Even in NW Arkansas, where foodservice employees usually make at least $7 an hour, Sonic pays minimum wage (to cooks). I don't know what they pay carhops.

I tipped until the infernal credit card machines were put in. It's easier on the carhop not having to go back in to run the card, although I would write in a dollar tip, and I almost never have cash there. I find myself using the drive through more often now for that reason.

Unless the weather is complete ass, I prefer to drive-in so that I can stop my engine while I wait without having to start it 5 times as the line moves along. These days, the gas I save nearly pays for the tip. ;)
posted by wierdo at 3:12 PM on June 25, 2008

I live in Arizona, and I'm not going to tip them.

I find the thought silly. I tip waiters at restaurants *very* generously, a friend and I routinely go out to lunch (semi-weekly) and tip 100% when the service warrants it. I enjoy tipping--when it's earned.

At Sonic, I order, the order is gathered into a bag, I pay for it.

I'm not offered refills five minutes later, I'm not going to tip even a quarter because, "Oh, we got mints". The server might walk 30 feet to get to my car, but, seriously, that's part of the job. Also, it could be argued that that 60 feet roundtrip just means that the server has, potentially, fewer clients than a McDonald's or the equivalent.

I fail to see how these carhops really do more work than McDonald's counter workers, which I don't tip.

If the waiter's scale is what they're paid on, they should seriously strike for better wages, or find a better job. It's not hard to get minimum somewhere else.
posted by Precision at 3:25 PM on June 25, 2008

Actually living in Texas, I don't want to park at Sonic and sit in my hot, hot car with the engine off, nor do I want to keep the engine running so that I can have a/c. There is no inside seating. I go through the drive-through and they hand the goods to me through the window and I drive home. The carhop doesn't come out to me. I don't tip at the window.

Basically, I don't like eating in my car anyhow. Even if it was wintertime, I'd either go through the drive-through or else go somewhere where I could sit inside.
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:32 PM on June 25, 2008

Also worth noting: Sonic is a franchise business. What is paid a one particular franchisee's location, in Arizona, Texas, or anywhere else, may not reflect what is paid somewhere else. I'm really shocked to hear they are paid less than minimum on the waiter's scale at some locations. My partner was a waiter years ago, and we always tip close to 20% at normal restaurants, and more than that for excellent service.
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:36 PM on June 25, 2008

One more thing, then I'll shut up. The Federal minimum wage for waiters in Texas is $2.13/hour. I wonder if the person in that link who said they made $3.25 was paid the regular minimum wage, but years and years ago...?
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:42 PM on June 25, 2008

i'm really shocked to hear they are paid less than minimum on the waiter's scale at some locations.

OTOH, it doesn't take too many of the people above who are tipping a $1 to make it a nicely paid job. You take the good with the bad.
posted by smackfu at 4:17 PM on June 25, 2008

If the waiter's scale is what they're paid on, they should seriously strike for better wages, or find a better job. It's not hard to get minimum somewhere else.

Do you know anything about going on strike? It's not something you just do.

I'm always surprised when people get self righteous about not tipping people who bring them food. Bartenders don't move very far either. Half the time they just open a bottle and put it down in front of you. Yet they get tipped all the time. If you frequent a place often enough to be recognized, you're less likely to have someone spit in your coke if they know you tip.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:39 PM on June 25, 2008

Of course you tip them. And I have had a carhop come back and check to see if we wanted dessert.

Why would you still be there for the carhop to come back? The OP is asking about the drive-thru, not the old-school A&W style spots where you pull up to a parking spot and sit there while you eat.
posted by mullacc at 5:12 PM on June 25, 2008

I do not tip in the drive-thru (I don't use the Sonic drive-thru, but wouldn't tip if I did), and tend to use my debit card at the park-and-order spots, but since I have about 3 regular Sonics and usually get the same 'hops, I generally tip a dollar every 2-3 visits. My bill is always $5.71, so I figure I'm okay there.

After the third or fourth time I tip, they start to remember me.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:31 PM on June 25, 2008

Lived in Texas all my life and I never even heard of tipping at Sonic until a year or so ago. I've never seen anybody else do it either.
posted by tamitang at 9:43 PM on June 25, 2008

Random data point: I just asked one of the carhops at my nearest Sonic and she reported that about one out of every five people tip.
posted by adipocere at 4:19 PM on December 30, 2008

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