A beloved quick-service chain’s off-premises investments pay off.

The pandemic was a rude awakening for the C-suite at many restaurant brands: Early adopters of labor-saving technology such as native apps, drive-thru analytics, kiosks, and hot lockers were able to adjust much more quickly, while those who didn’t have safe, convenient systems in place from the outset struggled to regain their footing.  

While some brands played catch up, Checkers and Rally’s kept doing what it’s always done—only better. So far in 2021, the Tampa-based burger chain has plans to open 55 stores with another 50 restaurants in the pipeline. 

A small footprint, double drive-thru setup has always been a signature part of the Checkers and Rally’s business model. While some brands scrambled to implement curbside parking, additional drive-thru lanes, or third-party delivery systems during the past 18 months, Checkers and Rally’s directed resources to their next big idea—a five-year growth plan that includes a brand makeover—with the help of a $20 million capital infusion from New York-based private equity firm Oak Hill Capital Partners, which acquired the brands in 2017.

As part of this investment, Checkers and Rally’s conducted a time and motion study to facilitate a more modern and efficient redesign. The study found that crew members walked an average 1.5 miles of unnecessary steps during a shift, prompting changes in kitchen layouts that minimize unnecessary movement. They’ve also invested in new cooking technologies, such as a clamshell grill that cooks burgers from both sides. 

“The new equipment helps our products stay fresh, and the new design helps team members quickly serve our guests a better product,” says Sedrick Turner, who owns four stores with three more in development in Tupelo, Mississippi.

In addition to changes inside of restaurants, Checkers and Rally’s will soon debut new exterior looks. The company is working with muralists to create one-of-a-kind art installations that feature the local flare and history of each locale.

“With so many dining options, you want to catch drivers’ eyes from the road,” says Alvaro Sauma, who owns 13 stores in Chicago and northern Indiana. “It ties to our core values of quality of food and service—great equipment and team members inside, and a great look outside.”

Checkers and Rally’s also had another new addition: a dedicated pickup lane for ecommerce orders that come through via the brand’s native app, which launched in January. The company is currently testing these new processes at its “Restaurant of the Future” (ROTF) prototype in Lakeland, Florida. In June, franchisees traveled to the store for a peek at the new changes. 

“I love the concept and the new design,” says Scott Sebastian, who owns three Checkers stores in Lake Charles, Louisiana and two in Beaumont, Texas. “The double drive thru has been there from the beginning, but with COVID, it’s proven to be a really solid concept. Sit-down seating, energy costs, labor—all those things are more efficient with the Checkers program, and the new changes will only improve operations and customer satisfaction.”

Checkers and Rally’s operates more than 800 U.S. locations, and the company is seeking new franchisees. Depending on site type, permits, and construction time, the average development time for a new location is between six–12 months. Initial franchise fees run between $20,000–30,000 and potential franchisees must show a $750,000 minimum net worth, of which $250,000 per location must be liquid.

Next up, the company plans to upgrade seven more locations, then roll out its new ROTF design to existing corporate stores. Once processes and designs are fully tested for optimal efficiency, franchisees will be able to reimage their current restaurants using the ROTF design. The new 2022 prototype restaurant will also incorporate the ROTF. A bonus for franchisees is that the company tests products at its corporate stores before rolling them out nationwide.

“What works in the South might not work in the North,” Turner says. “Checkers has more than 200 corporate stores where it can test new products and processes, which is a big selling point.”

Checkers and Rally’s has a strong company culture focused on service and quality. The brand also likes to have fun, and franchisees report it truly feels like a family whose members support and encourage each other—with a little friendly competition, of course.

“People tend to look at bigger brands, but I think Checkers and Rally’s is one of the best kept secrets in the business,” Sauma says. “At the end of day, it’s business—and this is a good business opportunity.”

To learn more about franchising with Checkers and Rally’s, visit checkersfranchising.com.

By Davina van Buren

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