Web Exclusive | February 2012 | By Kevin Hardy

The Evolution of Checkers/Rally’s

Double drive-thru chain tests new prototype that replaces one drive-thru window with a patio.

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Checkers/Rally’s, the nation’s largest double drive-thru chain, unveiled a new store prototype that updates the look of the building and loses the iconic second drive-thru window in favor of a covered seating area.

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The new store design, which debuted this fall in a Mobile, Alabama, Checkers unit, will be adjusted before rolling out to future locations. Once it’s finalized, the prototype will be one of several models available to franchisees, joining freestanding, in-line, and end-cap designs. Operators will also have an opportunity to remodel with the new prototype.

Checkers/Rally’s CEO Rick Silva says the new design and remodels are one piece to evolving the burger chain’s brand.

“This is part of a broader sense of growing the company,” he says. “Growth is really what we’re all about.”

Checkers first opened in 1986 in Mobile. Since combining with the similar Rally’s brand in 1999, the Florida-based chain has grown to 300 company and 500 franchise locations in 30 states. Except for the names, the two restaurants operate as identical quick-service concepts.

By eliminating the second drive-thru window, the new store design streamlines production and is more inviting for walk-up customers. With build-out costs at about $650,000, it’s also cheaper than the existing standalone double drive-thru store, which typically costs about $850,000 to build, Silva says. The redesigned kitchen, which moves from one cooking hood to two, also reduces utility costs.

“It looks better. It has much better presence. And it costs you less,” Silva says. “It is clearly where we’re going.”

Silva says the prototype could be on the market as early as the end of this year or early 2013. Customers have so far responded positively to the new design, Silva says, which is adjacent to the site of the company’s first store in Mobile. But he says the design still needs some final tweaking before it’s expanded to the mass market.

“Rather than to try to tear everything up and create some completely new look and feel, Checkers/Rally's realized they've got a good thing going and could strengthen it.”

“It is doing wonderfully well for a prototype,” he says. “It tells me we are really close to a final product. But we’re going to want to make sure we vet that. We’re going to continue to evolve it and test it.”

The new prototype is the brainchild of Chute Gerdeman, a strategic brand and design firm based in Columbus, Ohio. The new building retains Checkers’ iconic red, black, and white colors on its exterior, but plays up the checker pattern, which now covers the front facade.

Traditional glass block features were removed and designers also toned down the use of polished stainless steel to help create an updated look.

“We wanted touches of a retro feel,” says Steve Boreman, senior designer for Chute Gerdeman. “But we didn’t want this place to look like it was supposed to be an old-fashioned diner.”

With the checkerboard pattern, curved lines, and chrome look of the stainless steel, Boreman says, Checkers’ traditional design plays off the look of a classic car.

“We didn’t want to lose that,” he says.

Boreman says designers were careful to not stray too far from Checkers/Rally’s original look, keeping loyal customers comfortable while also offering something new for prospective diners. Though there’s only one drive-thru lane, the Mobile restaurant still features a double canopy, paying homage to the two drive-up lanes. The covered seating area, meanwhile, offers something new.

“That was a way of addressing both of those groups they knew were going to be there—the loyal fans and the people who just needed another reason to go to Checkers more often,” Boreman says. “Rather than to try to tear everything up and create some completely new look and feel and offer, they realized they’ve got a good thing going and could strengthen it.”

The new store’s larger walk-up window creates a new sense of transparency by allowing customers to see their burgers being made inside, says Lynn Rosenbaum, vice president of environments for Chute Gerdeman.

“For the most part, their stores are simply kitchens that are pushing out products through windows,” Rosenbaum says. “They wanted to create a much friendlier persona with their building. They wanted to open up their building and expose the operations inside to the walk-up customer.”

Rosenbaum says the larger front window also lets the operator show off the redesigned kitchen, which is much more efficient than previous models thanks to an interior design that maximizes productivity and speed.

“You begin to get the sense that Checkers is all about speed, all about efficiency,” Rosenbaum says. 

To access photos of the new store design, click here.