Friday, November 6, 2009

Another fast food pioneer - Troy N. Smith of Sonic

If there's nothing else special about the United States, we can certainly lay claim to innovations in fast food. Time doesn't permit me to detail our extensive innovations here, but suffice it to say that my country has continued to refine the development of fast food service ever since it was introduced in the 19th century.

Fast food businesses, by their very nature, originate in small localities, and while certain fast food chains may grow to worldwide status, others remain regional businesses that are unknown outside of their original area.

When I watch national TV shows, I'll see advertisements for Sonic. However, I only know of one Sonic restaurant in southern California. Coincidentally, it happens to be only a few miles away from where I work, so I did go there once. But I don't habitually visit Sonic in the same way that some of you may.

Sonic suffered a loss a few days ago - one that the New York Times reported:

Troy N. Smith Sr., who turned ordering a hamburger by speaking into a microphone from a parked car into a national habit, died last Monday in Oklahoma City, Okla. He was 87.

His death was announced by the Sonic Corporation, the nationwide chain of drive-in restaurants he founded in 1959.

The Times goes on to explain how Smith was inspired by the work of others to build his own success story. As the Times relates, Smith happened across a restaurant with a car-to-kitchen intercom, an innovation that allowed people to order food without even leaving their car. Smith adapted the innovation for his Oklahoma root beer stand, and eventually built a chain of restaurants. Other innovations were included:

He added an intercom system that made it possible to deliver food within three minutes; wired each restaurant with speakers to pipe in radio hits; added angular parking to increase privacy; and maintained a fleet of roller-skating carhops, even as other restaurants were cutting back.

Smith retired from day to day operations in 1983, but the Sonic chain continues, with locations in 42 states.

The picture that adorns this post was taken from this Flickr entry (license) by Flickr user William F. Yurasko. His experience in Myrtle Beach was recorded in a blog post:

We pulled into the SONIC lot and I ordered directly from the car. Despite never having car service before, we elected to sit at one of the picnic tables. Yes, we realized this could be controversial, but after spending 1/3 of the previous day in the car, dining al fresco was a welcome option. Just a few minutes after sitting down, a server arrived with a tray of food.

William, like I, ordered the french fries. When I did so, I was criticized for not ordering the onion rings or the tater tots. William was also told that he should have ordered the tater tots (see the comments on his post).

I actually haven't been back there in over a year, and I haven't run across any Sonics in my recent travels. It's time to return.
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