Sonic Drive-In revolutionizes the franchise model, adds play amenities

Jana and Zac McDaniel are paving the way for the Sonic Drive-in business with a unique play structure at their Okarche, OK restaurant. Designed by PLAYTIME and installed by Cunningham Recreation, a representative of GameTime playgrounds. The custom-themed vintage pickup truck Sonic play area is the first of its kind for the new Sonic franchisee.

“Sonic has allowed us the flexibility to create a unique destination that fits really well with our small town,“ say Jana McDaniel, Okarche Sonic Drive-In franchise owner.

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She says the Sonic Drive-in pickup truck design “hit a home run” and has become the official mascot for the Okarche store. They named him “‘Tater’ like Mater”, says Jana, from the movie Cars.

The idea for a Sonic play area was born by Jana’s personal experience as a parent. She wanted a safe place for kids to hang out at their store.

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“When we decided to open the restaurant, it was important to us to create a safe space for families with kids, so we decided to build an enclosed patio with a play area for families,” said Jana.

The McDaniels purposely designed the enclosed patio to reduce the stress of having kids running around the cars parked in the Sonic Drive-In stall area, and to provide a relaxing space for families to dine, relax and play while at the restaurant.

“We had seen the soft, colorful play areas at the airport and in the malls, and really liked the low-profile elements that kids could crawl on. When I started looking online, I saw the PLAYTIME Tuff Forms sculpted playground equipment,” said Jana about her playground design research.

Jana then got in touch with Nick Whisenhunt at Cunningham Recreation, which represents the PLAYTIME Tuff Forms outdoor play products. They explained that they wanted small play elements with a playground slide, not over 36 inches, so if kids fall it would not be a big deal.

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The McDaniels worked with Whisenhunt and the PLAYTIME design department to come up with the eventual concept. PLAYTIME took the theme, available space, surrounding area and budget, and came up with a custom-themed design concept that focused on the 50’s carhop era that would bring the Sonic brand to life.

From a business perspective, the new Sonic Drive-In play area brings a lot of value by creating a restaurant space where people congregate, stay longer and return often.
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“The biggest influence in establishing our own brand is the visibility of the play area as people drive by,” says Zac McDaniel, Okarche Sonic owner. “Now, people will pull up to the Sonic car stall, the kids will get out and play, and families will come sit in the patio while they order and wait for their meals.

Sonic Drive-Ins have three to four options for store layouts that typically do not include inside dining room space.

“Our Sonic playground and patio has increased walk-up business, and extended our available dining space, especially during high volume periods when stall space is limited,” added Zac. “We also opted for super wide drive-in stalls and a single drive through lane instead of the double lane, which allowed us space for our restaurant playground.”

From a marketing perspective, the McDaniels are using Tater the Sonic play truck as their mascot on customer emails, advertising, catering menus and the store’s Facebook page.
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“Kudos to the McDaniels for creating an environment where kids can stop staring at a screen, get out of the car and play,” says Scott Gorman, PLAYTIME Channel Sales Manager. “The Okarche Sonic Truck play area has created a positive area for kids to be kids.”

Other franchisees around the country are always interested in new and unique installations or designs. Jana has received numerous inquiries from their guests about the origin of “Tater “ the Sonic playground truck.

Sonic franchisees can get more information about the Sonic Drive-In custom play equipment by contacting Eric Klump, Business Development Manager at PLAYTIME.

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