The Untold Truth Of Checkers And Rally's

Black and white and red all over, these twin burger chains sound like a riddle. Instead, Checkers and Rally's are some of the most straight-forward fast food diners in the U.S. They've made the most of the drive-thru design, and their fries are the stuff of legend.

With mottos about feasting and devouring, Checkers and Rally's dare patrons to bring their appetites. They have a storied advertising history, and they've proven they aren't afraid to pick a fight to defend their corner of the market. They don't take themselves too seriously, either.

Even if you're a super fan, you may not know about the chain's close brush with collapse, and you may be surprised by how far other fans will go to celebrate chicken tenders and seasoned fries. The untold truth is that Checkers and Rally's like to play some very entertaining games, and they've crafted an interesting history in the few decades they've been in business.

They specialize in take-out and only take-out

Experts agree drive-thrus dramatically increase fast food restaurants' revenue, as noted by Restaurant Business. Checkers and Rally's took this data to heart.

There's a lot you won't see at these restaurants. Your kids can't go down a slide at Rally's because none of them have play areas. You can't escape the summer bugs when you eat at Checkers because there is no indoor dining. These fast food joints want to give you your food quickly and get you on your way ASAP. To make that system as efficient as possible, they don't offer doors for anyone but staff.

While a drive-thru is an addition to a traditional restaurant, which prioritizes indoor, sit-down dining, Rally's and Checkers flipped the script. In the beginning, most of their locations had two drive-thru lanes, and when new sites began offering a single lane with an expanded outdoor seating area in 2012, it was a big change.

From the beginning, the menu has catered to customers who eat on the move. Most locations have a walk-up ordering window, but both chains make the most of their drive-thru concepts. In fact, very few have a dine-in option.

Checkers nearly went out of business

An interesting but failed business model aiming to get restaurants in areas without as much competition backfired and nearly ended the company. Since Checkers and Rally's are the same business, the plan nearly took out two chains with one mistake.

Rally's and Checkers went too big, too fast. In a 2004 interview with The Tampa Bay Times, former CEO Keith Sirois said, "We went places we never should have gone and spent too much." Instead of seeing profits, the company took a beating in the early 2000s, losing profits and closing restaurants to compensate for their rapid expansion. In 2002, the chain saw an annual loss of approximately $1.7 million.

Rather than giving up the ghost, the chain underwent a face-lift and rebranding. The reboot has gone so well the brand is set to expand again with a plan to increase the number of restaurants by 50% over the next five years. That's great news for anyone without great seasoned fries within driving distance. Your prayers may soon be answered.

Rally's and Checkers operate as a team

If you don't know the history, it's easy to get confused by the nearly identical restaurants. Shouldn't one sue the other for copyright infringement? Apart from the name printed on the packaging and sign, everything's the same. The layout, decor, and menu match perfectly. One must have copied the other, right?

The truth is that, despite the regional name differences, Checkers and Rally's are the same restaurant. They didn't start that way, though. Rally's appeared in Tennessee in 1984, and Checkers first started selling burgers in 1986 in Alabama.

Founded in different years in different states, the two chains officially teamed up in 1999. Technically, they merged through a stock-swap. However, Checkers' chairman took over the same position for Rally's, and Checkers' base of operations in Florida became headquarters for both chains.

Today, the two restaurants look the same because they are the same. The same food from the same distributors land in both chains' kitchens, and employees from Checkers and Rally's answer to the same bosses.

They have the 'most craveable' fries

No matter how you feel about their burgers, you probably love the fries at Rally's and Checkers. This isn't just opinion, either. It's backed up by hard data. According to customer praise collected by Technomic's Ignite database, the seasoned fries at the checker-board drive-thru are the "most craveable." They didn't win by a low margin, either. Over 50% of customers declared it so, as noted by Restaurant Business.

It's important to consider the scope of this achievement. The Ignite database included thousands of fry-serving restaurants for customers to consider. Checkers and Rally's won over Fuddrucker's potato wedges, Shake Shack crinkle fries, and Five Guys Cajun creations. That's some pretty stiff competition.

The chains celebrated the announcement with one of their own. To thank their fans, they gave away their craveable fries for free on Black Fryday. Whether or not you think they deserved the victory, they certainly know their audience. They know how to feed them, too.

The fries aren't just seasoned

Many restaurants have some kind of seasoned fry. Your parents might have attempted their own version by throwing seasoned salt on sliced potatoes. Maybe you've tried store-brand seasoned fries from the freezer aisle. While these alternatives to the reigning champions of the fry kingdom might taste good, they have nothing on the delights of Rally's and Checkers' craveable creations.

Why, though? What makes them taste so good? It can't just be the seasoning, can it?

Honestly, it isn't just the seasoning. It's also the batter. Ryan Joy, senior director of research and development for Checkers and Rally's, went into detail about the magic behind the mouthful in a piece for Fast Casual. The batter brings everything together, and that's why Checkers fries are so delicious. While plain seasoning can slip off naked potatoes, the seasoning is actually in the batter at Checkers and Rally's. When the fries come out of the oil and are passed through the drive-thru window, the batter keeps them warm, too. As a restaurant chain that specializes in take-out rather than dine-in, this is especially important.

Other items are fry-seasoned

Though they've struggled in the past, the folks behind Checkers know a hit when they see one. Fans love their fries, and Checkers works hard to share the love. If you check out their menu, you'll notice how many things besides the fries are "fry-seasoned."

If the seasoned batter is good on fries, imagine how it tastes on anything else. There are fry-seasoned chicken tenders and fry-seasoned "monsterella stix." Ryan Joy, one of the minds behind the menu at Checkers and Rally's, confirmed in his article for Fast Casual that the fry batter is the same as the batter used on their fried pickles, too (when they're on the menu).

There's a Fry Lovers burger, too. The sandwich isn't dipped in the famous batter, but it comes stuffed with fries happy to lend their seasoning to each bite. It's the kind of secret menu item you'd expect to assemble yourself, but it comes prepped and ready for lunch without you having to juggle items in the car.

A couple had a Checkers-themed wedding

It's a classic love story. Victoria met Arley, and they fell in love. Then they got married. The twist is one of their early meet-ups was at a Checkers. Since they love the fast-food chain as much as they love each other, they had a Checkers-themed wedding (via WFLA).

There are fans. Then there are these folks. They know how to have fun, which is an important aspect of any relationship. After Arley proposed, he asked for a counter proposal from Victoria to prove her love. He sent her on a quest. She must return to him with five fry burgers. Needless to say, Victoria succeeded, and when she presented the sandwiches on one knee, her betrothed took one, unwrapped, and took a bite as he said yes.

Notably, the bride's bouquet was full of chicken tenders at her wedding. We can guess where she'd put Rally's on a ranked list of fast food chicken tenders. Of course, the reception was catered by a Rally's food truck called the Fry Love Express.

It's too late for suggestions, but imagine if they had a fry girl instead of a flower girl.

Buccaneer fans have something to celebrate

Team-ups are great. Superheroes perform them all the time. Checkers and Rally's decided that teaming up wasn't just great for them, but it was great to team up with sports teams too. While they have partnered with several sports teams across the U.S., they have a special relationship with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Whenever the Buccaneers won a game during the 2021-2022 season, fans could text a special number and get a coupon for free food. Anyone in the Greater Tampa area who paid attention to the team's games could cash in on the offer. They didn't have to have tickets to the game. Casual fans could party with the hard-core devotees.

Why the extra cheer for this team in particular, though? The truth is that Checkers and the Buccaneers are neighbors. Tampa, Florida isn't just the Buccaneers' home turf. It's also the fast-food brand's base of operations.

They started a hot dog fight with Burger King

Hot dogs aren't everyone's thing, but they've been a thing at Checkers for over 30 years. When you do something well for a long time, you get annoyed when someone else tries to spotlight their own recent efforts as something revolutionary. So, when Burger King started selling hot dogs in 2016, Checkers and Rally's took aim.

They took an ad out in USA Today calling out their competitor. The suggestive ad started with an eye-catching headline: "Hey Burger King, it's time to compare wieners." While there are plenty of things you don't want to know about hot dogs, Rally's and Checkers weren't afraid to share some facts. In addition to a large image of a nicely grilled hot dog, the advertisement reminded customers that their wieners are 100% beef and considerably cheaper than Burger King's. The ad even accused Burger King of "overcompensating."

The Wiener Wars had begun. 7-Eleven followed Checkers into battle with their own ad, the Hot Dog Bill of Rights, which also lampooned Burger King's latest menu item. It's always nice to have followers, right?

There are fries for every course

Fries don't just pair with burgers. With a little imagination, they can go with any part of a meal, including dessert. Realizing what their fans love, Rally's and Checkers added new fries to the menu: dessert funnel cake fries. While they aren't among the craziest foods you'll find at state fairs, funnel cakes are among the most beloved, and they pair well with fries. All batter and no potato, the fries came in servings of 10 with a tasty veneer of powdered sugar. Extra toppings, such as strawberries, were also available.

They first appeared as a limited-time special in 2017, but Rally's and Checkers fans have always made their love of fries very clear. It's little wonder that shortly after their original, brief appearance, funnel cake fries returned to the menu as permanent residents (via The Fast Food Post).

The strawberries and extra toppings didn't come back, at least not to all locations, but the brand has always emphasized selling food that's easy to eat in the car. Funnel cake in a stick shape is easy to munch on the go. The extra toppings would provide an extra challenge.

The vintage aesthetic is skin-deep

The chain is designed to look vintage, even though its origins only go back to the 1980s. They still capitalize on it today, though.

Though there are changes in design from time to time, they tend to be small. Leaders are discussing some landscaping updates, particularly for new franchise stores, that may help walk-up window service and outdoor dining experiences (via QSR). Compared to the kinds of overhauls other major fast-food joints pulled since their inception, these little touch-ups are nothing. Updates aim to improve customer experience rather than appeal to new audiences with a facelift. That means menus have better lighting and customers get dedicated drive-thru lanes for mobile orders. The same colors and patterns call to hungry drivers.

Even the biggest changes, like the aesthetics tweak introduced in 2012, simply shifted focus between vintage elements. The checkerboard pattern got more attention, and new locations saw less stainless steel and glass-block decor.

They've had a lot of slogans and taglines

For a fairly new chain, Checkers and Rally's have powered through a lot of catchphrases. These branding decisions tell you a lot about the target market and company goals, and although the slogans have changed, the message has remained fairly consistent. Checkers and Rally's aren't trying to reimagine themselves. They just want to shake up the conversation.

One of their longest-serving taglines, "You Gotta Eat," reminded everyone they were hungry. The replacement slogan, "Little place. BIG TASTE," reminded everyone that the drive-thru place with the checkerboard design has those incredible, seasoned fries. "Devour the Night" joined the tagline team as a special appeal to the night owls and party people. Not a lot of places stay open late, and Checkers and Rally's restaurants have always emphasized that customers get a lot for what they pay. "Feast On" continued the theme — complete with a jingle.

Checkers and Rally's want you to know they have a lot of food, it has a lot of flavor, and it's available at night. They don't ask you to sit down and spend time with them, either. As their ads full of water slides and outdoor adventures suggest, the drive-thru will give you a fast feast on the go.