Sonic Corp. is expanding its new indoor-dining prototype into upstate New York as it presses its drive-in concept into colder regions, the company said Tuesday.

The prototype encloses a traditional unit’s covered patio area to accommodate seating protected from nature’s elements.

“If it’s good weather during the summer season, you can put the doors open and still enjoy the patio-type feel,” Sonic spokesman Patrick Lenow said. “We also have an iteration where it’s a more permanently enclosed structure.”

Sonic has introduced the enclosed prototype in various styles to about 10 units over the past 18 months at the urging of franchisees in areas like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Lenow said.

An expanded franchise agreement with a five-unit franchisee in Rochester, N.Y., will bring the new prototype to that market this year, the company said, as well as to six new units in that group’s planned developments for Syracuse and Watertown, N.Y. The company expects the first unit in Rochester to open later this year.

The prototype offers about 40 seats inside and ordering at the counter.

“We still feature carhops inside in those locations,” Lenow said. “So the food is brought to the customer’s table by the carhop. … We didn’t want to sacrifice that experience that you have at a Sonic.”

Lenow said Sonic expects to further develop the indoor-dining version.

The prototype is well suited for colder climates, said Bob Franke, Sonic senior vice president of franchise sales and international development. “The Northern states are ripe with expansion opportunities for Sonic, given the brand’s relatively small footprint in the area combined with high customer awareness and pent-up demand,” he said.

Consumer awareness for the brand is high because of the company’s national advertising, featuring the humorous “Two Guys” as spokesmen, Franke noted.

“Upstate New York has been exposed to Sonic’s marketing and word-of-mouth for years and is clamoring for the Sonic experience,” said Fran DeSimone, the New York restaurateur who is leading the five-unit Rochester franchise development group.

Oklahoma City, Okla.-based Sonic Corp. has more than 3,500 units units in 44 states.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com
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