She took pictures of the employees, one of whom is a manager, that are circulating around Cleveland.
"They pulled their cigarettes out just like always...it's an every night thing," said Emily. "They began smoking and cleaning up the kitchen."
We're using an alias because the witness asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. She said they lit up as they closed one night last week. We asked what made her take the pictures.
"I want to show my community what they're eating, what's going on in that place," she said.
The pictures have been shared hundreds of times on social media. SONIC's corporate office says the franchisee who owns and operates the drive-in takes food safety very seriously and all safety issues are acted upon immediately. That spokesperson said "the employees were aware of the drive-in's no smoking rule, however they mistakenly assumed that the rule did not apply after close of business."
"They're putting that stuff up for the next day while they're smoking. All the breakfast stuff, they're putting that in order," said Emily.
ABC13 stopped a few people near the restaurant to see what they thought.
"I'd say it's pretty nasty," said Shelly Allen. "I don't think I'm going to be going to Sonic any time soon."
Shelly Allen and her daughter Shelby, both smokers, said the pictures are not cool.
"I don't even smoke in my house," Shelly Allen said. "I wouldn't want to have ashes in my burger. That's very gross."
A SONIC spokesperson said this was not against health department codes.
A spokesman for the Department of State Health Services said: "The key is that tobacco must only be used in a designated area where it won't contaminate food, equipment or utensils. We can't say for sure whether the photos represent a violation, but we are treating this as a complaint and will look into it further."
The employees involved have been disciplined, but remain employed. SONIC said it was a mistake, and the owner has changed the no smoking policy for employees to include the entire property to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Sonic released the following statement to ABC13 regarding the incident:
The SONIC franchisee who owns and operates this drive-in takes food safety very seriously and all safety issues are acted upon immediately. Recently two drive-in employees were photographed smoking inside the building after business hours. The employees were aware of the drive-in's no smoking rule, however they mistakenly assumed that the rule did not apply after close of business. The employees have since been disciplined appropriately. The drive-in's management has made all employees aware that now smoking is not allowed anywhere on the property.
A local family opened this drive-in in 1978, and the current operators represent the family's fourth generation to be in the business. They are committed to being good community partners, supporting the Cleveland School District, and they appreciate the trust and confidence their guests place in SONIC every day to serve them delicious and safe food.