Sonic Boom of Behavioral Change

Around lunchtime today, when walking home from Von’s supermarket with cheap canned cat food, I got a hankering for a Sonic burger. We rarely eat out and the fast-food place was one of my father-in-law’s favorites. I thought to simultaneously see how the take-out experience has changed and to venture down memory lane. Surprise doesn’t enough express what I found or—stated differently—didn’t.

I stepped inside the restaurant to see chairs stacked on tables in fashion to cordon off most of the dining room. The menu screens were dark, as was the overall ambience. I could enter because roller-skating servers (e.g. carhops) exit through the same doors to deliver meals to parked vehicles. I vamoosed.

During the SARS-CoV-2(severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2)/COVID-19 lockdowns, when California prohibited in-person dining, such scenes would be common. But aren’t we beyond that now? Time stamp on the Featured Image is 12:32 p.m. PST. Surely someone would want to eat inside, wouldn’t they? During the typical lunch hour? (Photo vitals, aperture manually set for all: f/8, ISO 100, 1/100 sec, 28mm.)

Dark dining room doesn’t mean no customers. The drive-thru bustled with cars and many more were parked in the service stalls. Diners either ate in their vehicles or drove off with food. That is a dramatic change from before punishing pandemic restrictions riveted people from one another and from businesses.

Sonic is best known as a drive-in restaurant, but you could always eat inside the inviting dining room, which glass garage-like door pulled up to allow easy access to the outdoor eating area. But not today, and I can’t speak for others.

I presume changed customer behavior, post-pandemic, explains what was observed. If there is some reason related to the ailing economy and rising inflation, lack of patrons isn’t explanation—based on my observations. Like I said, the place was hopping.

My wife suggested returning to Sonic for a photo of cars parked in the ordering stalls. Annie was right; I should have gotten that perspective earlier. I arrived around 2:55 p.m. to find the place even busier than during the more traditional mid-day mealtime. A dozen (or more) vehicles were pulled up, in addition to steady flow at the drive-thru.

But I struggled to find a good perspective, and walking around with the camera caused some tension; one truck honked twice rapidly while I took the last shot. The two companions, as such, mark the moment but that doesn’t make me satisfied with them. Vitals, second shot: f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, 28mm. The other: f/8, ISO 100, 1/125 sec, 28mm; 2:57 p.m. Leica Q2 used for all.