This update will give Checkers a chance to cement one of its COVID success features. Since March, the chain converted two-thirds of corporate stores to includes a dedicated e-commerce lane. Many franchisees followed suit. This is a backbone element you see in a lot of prototypes revealed by category players, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, and Shake Shack.
This helped double delivery sales, Allen says. It also provided an added level of convenience for digital-centric customers as well as delivery drivers.
“And that worked extremely well for us,” she says. “So how do you make that product even better.”
Checkers’ new design focuses on improving the experience at walk-up windows, patios, and drive thrus.
It features better lighting leading up to ordering points and a QR code that can be scanned to pull up the menu. Checkers even reworked the seating area and bathrooms to make both more appealing. The first “restaurant of the future” location is scheduled for Lakeland, Florida, in summer, with six more on deck before 2022.
Checkers thought through its restaurant inside and out. It conducted a time-and-motion study on the placement of equipment to see if it could improve efficiencies.
It discovered employees were walking “significantly more miles in the week,” Allen says. About 1.5 miles each hour to be exact.
Checkers took the chance to optimize placement and remedy the issue. Also, to swap old equipment. For instance, it’s replacing flattops with clamshell grills in an effort to boost quality, consistency, and throughput. The new kitchens also include holding equipment that keeps products hotter with longer hold times, fry stations and grill positions with better capacity, and the removal of final cooking processes from most fried products.
The inside, or “engine,” is going to get a complete overhaul, Allen says. There are currently four Checkers with kitchen upgrades. Ten more are planned for the near-future.
Allen says tests have returned compelling results. Enough to spark franchisee interest, from existing and prospective parties. The branded added 40 new franchisees and 70 locations to the pipeline last year. It’s a 25 percent increase in the number of franchisees it started with in January 2020.
“We’ve got plenty of room to grow,” Allen says. “We’ve got three times whitespace just in our existing markets.” In other terms, Checkers believes it can triple across its footprint, market-to-market, without even thinking about breaking into new territory.
Checkers’ modular growth strategy should help, too, she adds. The company generally builds its restaurants off-site and pieces them together upon arrival. It’s a method that lowers costs and aids real estate flexibility. Chick-fil-A has even started to head down that road. “We also have a much smaller footprint. So that means we have access to drive-thru sites that many of our competitors don’t,” Allen says. “… It’s a very attractive proposition to franchisees. Particularly when the brand is showing such positive, organic growth.”
She says many operators are “itching” to put the new kitchen in. Others, naturally, want to see broader results.
But to date, Allen says, it’s making Checkers faster. The food is coming out better. Quality is easy to spot. “And that in turn is showing a sales increase,” she says. “At the same time, the employee experience of just learning this new equipment is so much more intuitive and easy to learn that they’re much happier.”
Some exterior touches include additional landscaping. Checkers heard from guests that patios often were too close to main roads or busy highways. So it’s relocating and making the walk-up window safer. Overall, it’s a more contemporary image that doesn’t sacrifice iconic branding, Allen says.
It will be easy to recognize it’s a Checkers or Rally’s. That hasn’t changed. Only enhanced, tech-ready, and completely reimagined within the four walls.