Have you ever been a carhop? I have. Twice. Once on skates and once without. Did you know that a lot of Sonic Drive-Ins pay their carhops less than minimum wage? In my region of South Mississippi, carhops are usually paid $4.25 an hour. Some restaurants pay $5.25 if the carhop is on skates. I know that it is hard to believe that a fast food restaurant expects people to tip, but when you think about it, carhops are servers too. We take your order over the speaker (sometimes if we’re having issues hearing you we actually grace your vehicle with a premature visit), make your drinks, make your ice cream, bag your food and VOILA! Your order has arrived on a tray with a friendly smile.
But a lot of people don’t leave it at that. A lot of people forget while they were on the speaker to ask for extra sauce, or extra napkins, a separate bag, or (my favorite) forgetting to ask for multiple more items.
“I forgot to ask for an ice cream cone in a cup with a side of caramel.”
Yes, it seems simple and petty but let me give you some numbers.
Now, based on my experience, most Sonic customers require the carhop to go back inside several times. (Yes, it sounds like the carhop is doing a terrible job, but most of them really aren’t. The customers are treating us like servers, which requires several back-and-forths.)
On a typical Saturday night, the average carhop runs anywhere from 150 to 200 tickets to vehicles. Assuming the carhop did 200 tickets, that means they had to run in and out the door 200 times. At LEAST every other order delivered, the customer requires something else from the inside. That’s 300 runs in and out (now mind you, this is fast food so a very fast pace is required) About half of that half require a third trip inside. That’s 350. About a fifth of that half will require a fourth trip. That’s 360.
That is 360 times that we run outside and to the farthest reaches of the parking lot and 360 times of running back inside in one night. And if you think these numbers are exaggerating, ask any carhop. They will tell you.
Now, let’s assume that it’s raining. Or snowing. Or 110 degrees outside with everyone running their vehicles, too (gotta keep it cool on the inside). Running anywhere from ten feet to a hundred feet from the door, you could imagine extreme weather is wearing. I’ve even had to work during hurricanes. Yes, the stalls and most of the patio is covered, but with hurricane winds, you could imagine they do little to nothing to keep you from getting soaked.
So here’s the kicker:
If a carhop makes $4.25 an hour, their employer requires them to make at least three dollars an hour in tips, or else the employer has to pay it out of pocket (which you could imagine doesn’t make them happy). The sad thing is, even after running in and out 360 times, most of the carhops struggle to make their minimum. I’ve seen carhops be forced to lie and say they made enough just so they wouldn’t get in trouble or get fired. There were long nights where I would do almost $2000 in food sales and go home with seven bucks.
I understand no one wants to tip carhops because they’re eating at a fast food restaurant. However, for the sixty years that Sonic Drive-In has been in business, the carhops have always been paid in tips.
So, you have your numbers. You understand how difficult a carhop’s job can be. And because this was mainly a rant to let people know the facts, I would like to list some of the bigger annoyances that carhops deal with daily. Maybe it’ll help some people.
* LOOK AT THE MENU — I can’t tell you how many times people press the button as soon as they pull up and ask us for the price of everything because they’re too lazy to look at the menu in front of their face.
* KNOW WHAT YOU WANT — If you press that button and we hear nothing but “uh” and “um”, we’re going to assume that you need more time figure out what you want and we’re going to tell you to press the button when you have your order together. It’s fast food. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
* IF EVERY SINGLE STALL IS FULL, IT IS SAFE TO ASSUME THAT WE ARE VERY BUSY AND IT MAY TAKE A FEW MINUTES FOR YOUR ORDER TO ARRIVE. — I don’t need to explain that one.
* DO NOT HONK YOUR CAR HORN — The menu specifically says to honk your horn if you need assistance, not to say hey to your homeboy across the parking lot who you just saw at the club two minutes ago.
* IF YOU HAVE A CREDIT/DEBIT CARD, RUN IT AS SOON AS YOU FINISH ORDERING — One of the main reasons that carhops make several trips to the same vehicle is to run cards, even though every single stall comes equipped with its own card machine. Now, the carhop isn’t going to get mad if your machine is broken, but 95% of the time, it’s just the customer forgetting to run it or are too lazy to.
* DO NOT COME INSIDE THE STORE — The doors have signs saying “Employees Only”, and they mean it. Working an overnight shift can be scary, and in a place where customers are suppose to stay outside, it makes us nervous to have customers waltz in and order.
* HAVE YOUR MONEY READY — Seriously, those trays we are carrying can weigh up to thirty pounds. If the carhop is the type to want the money before handing over the food (which is safer for everyone), holding that much weight on one arm for ten minutes while you count out change hurts — seriously. And not hearing us say your total doesn’t count unless your credit card machine is busted. It will always tell you your total.
* WHEN WE READ YOUR ORDER BACK TO YOU, LISTEN — I understand not everyone does their job properly, but the ones that do will repeat your order back after you’re finished. If they read your order back and you say it’s right… Guess what. They’re going to assume it’s right. And if you call in and say it’s wrong after you already told them it was right, they’re going to be very, VERY upset with you, and I never trust a server who is upset with me.
I think these are the biggest things that should be addressed. And with all of that said and done, just remember:
If every customer gave at least one quarter, the carhop could at least make their minimum.