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Tampa-based national burger fast-food chain targets $900M in revenue

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  • | 5:00 a.m. November 14, 2023
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Kris McDonald is the vice president of development at Tampa-based Checkers and Rally's Drive-In Restaurants.
Kris McDonald is the vice president of development at Tampa-based Checkers and Rally's Drive-In Restaurants.
Photo by Mark Wemple
  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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Drive into a Checkers or a Rally's and you may not notice the name. Did you enter a Checkers or a Rally's?

After all, the company, officially Checkers Drive-in Restaurants, made their dual brands one and the same, but did not change the names of the stores after merging. (In Florida, the stores are all named Checkers.)

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. It's the same Tampa-based company, and has been since a 1999 merger. The menus are the same. The goals —  a tasty, pleasant, fast and low-cost experience for the consumer — are the same. 

But, more lately, you might notice change in the store itself.

The modular design of the drive-thru chain will be updated at many of the 830-plus locations, as the national burger giant seeks to "bring the brand into the future," says Kris McDonald, vice president of development at Checkers and Rally's Drive-In Restaurants. Sales at the company, after a drop in 2021 from the previous year, rose 4.2% in 2022, to $890 million. 

"We've always kept up the assets," says McDonald, noting 70% of the stores are franchises. But as time went on, two decades and more had passed since the two burger companies merged.

"(The buildings) were kind of old and tired, to be honest," says McDonald. "Our new image gives us kind of a nod ... to our diner-style past. But it really brings the brand up to the future."

That future look is being noticed. McDonald likes to tell the recent story of an official Jacksonville re-opening — the store never actually closed during remodeling, she notes. Yet a customer approached a company executive and asked about the "new" store: "When did you open?"

The executive replied, "Thirty years ago."

McDonald says the new "imagings" will keep catching the attention of many consumers.

In addition to new stores, the company is planning a more aggressive course to boost revenue and increase margins. Business operations will be streamlined. The company recently promoted Alvaro De Palleja as chief restaurant officer to focus on operational consistencies with the brand. And it has a new CFO, Michael Blair, that the company hopes will extend the corporate team and further support for franchisees.

To the consumer, much of the change will be aimed at design, with some eyes on the burger-centric menu.

"We have continuous, ongoing efforts to innovate our menu and bring bigger and bolder flavors to the consumer at an affordable price," says McDonald in an email.

When asked why the focus on reimagining the stores, McDonald points to renovations and in some cases major store redesigns of burger competitors such as McDonald's and Wendy's Restaurants, and other fast-food rivals such as Taco Bell.

"What you don't want to be from a competitive perspective ... is the oldest-looking thing on the block," says McDonald.

The company's employees were also a factor in the corporate decision to redesign.

"It's got to be a nice place to work," says McDonald. "We have to serve the people who are serving the consumer."

McDonald says the company asked what could be done to improve the experience for staff. 

The old design created some inefficiencies and small problems, McDonald says. For one, employees had to exit their work area, go outside, and enter the bathrooms from outside. That design quirk will be eliminated, McDonald says.

Customer comfort will also be enhanced with the new design. The company says it will have a dedicated e-commerce drive-thru lane, making it easier to order ahead and pick up on the go — both for end-users and DoorDash, Uber Eats and other delivery drivers. (McDonald says 786 stores have dual drive-thrus on the right and left of the store.)

It is also updating its patios to make it more inviting to guests and enhance the dining experience.

The stores are actually built off-site, in a modular manner, and put together. Many of the thin buildings allow two lanes for drive-thru customers, and allow walk-up customers at front.

As for how much each store will get in renovations, McDonald says every store is different. Each store is a case-by-case basis, she says, so the numbers vary based on equipment and other materials needed. And McDonald says the company has not decided if all its corporate and franchised stores will get the same treatment.

Some original stores are not modular at all, and may not need the same treatment. But major changes are coming for many stores, and new stores will be popping up too, with a spiffy new one in Auburndale, Polk County, coming, one with all the new changes, McDonald says.

As the company grows, McDonald does not want to lose the folksy company culture it has built over decades that has led to repeat business, with consumers often knowing the cashiers by name, McDonald says.

"I was at one (Checkers and Rally's) restaurant not too long ago," McDonald says, her pride evident. "And ... this gentlemen comes up to the counter and asks, 'How did your granddaughter's graduation go?'"

A refurbished look will help with that neighborhood feel, she says.

"We want to be part of the community. And give them a good experience."


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