Do you know where your burger is?

Sonic Drive-In tries to send me in the wrong direction

John I. Carney
5 min readJan 26, 2024

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Photo of a Sonic Junior Deluxe Burger. The burger is wresting on top of its wrapper with a plain white background.
TheDapperDan, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

You may think of Shelbyville as a sleepy little town, but we have two Sonic Drive-Ins, two Subways, and — as of last month — two McDonald’s. Paris, eat your heart out!

Sonic, Subway and the Golden Arches have something else in common; they were some of the early leaders in the rush to mobile fast food ordering. I’ve used all three of their apps for years.

My office is on the second floor of Bedford County Courthouse, on the square at the very heart of Shelbyville. In the case of each of the three fast food chains I mentioned, they have an older location on Madison Street, which was the city’s primary retail corridor in the 1970s and 1980s, and a newer location on North Main Street, which is the current retail corridor.

Some mobile fast food apps will attempt to find the nearest location whenever you open the app, and will default to placing your order at that location unless you specifically go in and say otherwise. Other apps will remember the last location from which you ordered, and that will be the default. But even if the app normally remembers the last location, that can sometimes be interfered with — sometimes, if the app gets a major upgrade, or if you log out and then log back in again, it goes back to trying to tell you which location it believes you want to order from.

For me, with Sonic or Subway, the North Main location seems to be closer, but the Madison Street location is actually faster and more convenient for me to get to from work. I can take Depot Street, a back road with fewer stoplights, and then cut over to Madison at the last minute. And yet, the Sonic and Subway apps sometimes, to one degree or another, insist on trying to send me to their North Main Street locations.

In the case of Sonic, Google Maps just now showed that while the North Main location is 1.7 miles away, it takes seven minutes to get there. The Madison Street location is two miles away, but it only takes five minutes (via Google’s preferred route) or six minutes (via my preferred route) to get there. It’s not just my imagination that it’s quicker and easier for me to go to the Madison Street location.

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John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike