Checkers Drive-In Restaurants is heating up the QSR market with its reimaginged restaurant design. Scheduled to debut this summer in Lakeland, Florida, this “restaurant of the future” format is the cornerstone of the drive-thru brand’s growth plan.
Plus, Checkers and Rally's recently rolled out a fully integrated mobile app and rewards program. During the pandemic consumer demand for drive-thru has spurred QSR and fast casual brands to revisit their store development plans, adding drive-thrus and contactless pickup options to their new designs.
A 35-year-old brand, Checkers has been rolling out double-drive-thrus and walkup windows for decades. Checkers and its sister brand Rally’s has about 900 locations up and running, explains Checkers & Rally's Vice President of Development Kristen McDonald.
“We look at the restaurant of the future and how we can we improve upon it,” says McDonald. Changes to the store’s format and technology are designed to improve both the guest and the employee experience.
A typical location is a “small box” about 950 square feet. The interior will be arranged for greater employee comfort – including larger windows for more natural light and increased ventilation, and behind-the-scenes improvements.
One of the brands top priorities for the year is to make locations “more efficient,” says McDonald. Famous for its seasoned fries, Checkers is adding automatic fry dispensers to assist employees -- and cut back on walking back and forth during these times of socially distancing -- “so they have what they need right there for their shift,” she adds.
With efficiency and drive-thru times in mind, the kitchen will switch over to a clamshell grill from a flattop. Everything is made to order, and with the clamshell-style grill the burgers will cook faster, McDonald notes.
Low Down on the Low Side
The low side (or passenger seat side) drive-thru lane will be dedicated to pickups for digital order ahead through its app and for third-party drivers. The menu boards will have callouts on them to direct guest to the correct lane.
Checkers is available on all major third-party delivery platforms. “All the orders go through the POS,” McDonald explains. “There are no tablets. It’s seamless and easy.” To help with identification and organization, third-party delivery orders are printed on a different color ticket.
Dining on the Patio
The new prototype will have an outdoor patio with seating, and the brand is considering adding QR codes to outdoor patio signage that would enable those guests to order using their phones.
“2020 accelerated the changes already taking place,” notes McDonald. “The pandemic accelerated the pace of change for everybody … Early on in the pandemic, consumers were liking us because we do not have in-restaurant dining and there’s limited contact. We were already looking to convert the low-side lane, and our menu changes were in progress. We were executing our plans, but [the question] became how do we accelerate it?”
Many restaurants have shifted towards off-prem as consumers are embracing off-premises in record numbers. It’s a trend McDonald expects to continue. “It (the pandemic) has changed their behavior permanently. Even after the pandemic subsides, “consumers will go out and sit in restaurants but not as often as before,” she says.