Stories from the Covid-19 Front Lines: CEO Q&A with Frances Allen of Checkers & Rally's
Name: Frances Allen
Brand: Checkers & Rally’s
How has Covid-19 affected your brand?
We are faring better than most. The majority of our restaurants are drive-thru only, and we launched a comprehensive delivery business last year. We also have closed kitchens, and we have implemented many procedures to create contactless experiences for our guests. We’ve had to close fewer than 50 of our restaurants, mostly those with dining rooms (like our inline restaurants in New York) and some located inside malls. We believe we have seen the “trough” of low sales, and now we’re seeing that business is coming back, especially in markets that were first to enact the most severe social distancing mandates, like Ohio.
What are you doing to help your franchisees through this?
The key to our franchisee response effort has been communication, communication, communication. We send out daily updates to our franchisee community, highlighting the latest news, critical information they need to know, and resources available to them. We do not want them to worry about keeping up with the news – we want them concerned only with keeping their people safe and their restaurants open. We have also provided royalty deferment options to our hardest-hit franchisees, and we’ve cut network participation fees.
How are you supporting your corporate employees?
The health and safety of our employees and our guests has been our top priority from the onset of this crisis, and we are tremendously grateful to our managers and team members who show up every day to serve our communities. Our first step was to extend sick pay and closure pay to employees affected by the coronavirus. We’ve also set up a Retail & Grocery Employment Exchange program, partnering with brands such as Albertsons, Walgreens, Kroger, and others to help our employees at closed restaurants find temporary work. And we have the Checkers & Rally’s Employee Relief Fund, CARE, which was established in 2005 in the days following Hurricane Katrina to help employees recover. Now CARE is helping employees struggling with Covid-19. Most recently, we implemented a Free Meals for First Responders program at our company restaurants, and we believe that our employees are on the front lines, too. So we’re offering our teams a free meal every day they work.
What are your franchisees doing for their customers?
We are so proud to have witnessed the tremendous acts of kindness happening throughout our system. As a brand, we have teamed up with No Kid Hungry to help provide meals to kids in need. At the same time, several Checkers & Rally’s franchisees have implemented programs to give back in their local markets. For example, Joe Hertzman, owner of 32 Rally’s restaurants in the Louisville market, recently partnered with Jefferson County Public Schools to donate more than 164,800 meals to kids in need. He also made a $5,000 personal donation to be used toward Chromebooks for students, and he’s working with the Boys and Girls Club of Kentuckiana to donate 4,800 meals. Bruce Keehn, who owns seven Checkers locations in New Jersey, has always provided free meals for first responders, but he recently donated 2,750 additional meals for various local organizations including Community Medical Center and Make-A-Wish Foundation. Retired NFL player Donnell Thompson, co-owner of six Birmingham Rally’s locations, is offering free lunch five days a week to kids while they’re out of school, as well as giving free meals to first responders.
How are you working with your suppliers?
Many of our suppliers have shown up as true partners during this crisis, offering us deferment on rent, extended payment terms, price reductions, and other support. Others, like our delivery partners, are finding new ways to make their services work best for us. We feel very fortunate to have these kinds of suppliers working with us.
How do you see the future of your brand, operations, market, etc. post–Covid-19?
We believe our mostly drive-thru-only model is well positioned for the new normal, and our craveable food and value pricing has always made us successful, even during times of economic stress. We think that the drive-thru model will prosper as consumers continue to seek less interaction, and delivery will continue to increase. We’re also accelerating our efforts around order ahead options. And we believe that consumers will continue to crave comfort foods like our Famous Seasoned Fries, burgers, and ice cream.
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