Why Checkers and Rally’s are building restaurants out of shipping containers

checkers shipping container restaurant prototype

After about 10 years of using on-site builds, Checkers and Rally’s are diversifying their prototypes with new options, including a shipping container build.

The sister chains recently announced the new formats, which include an on-site build and a modular design. Designed for small lots, each type of restaurant is 810 square feet with a single drive-thru lane, which deviates from the company’s standard two-lane setup. The new prototypes rely on remote order takers to make up for the loss of the second lane.

Checkers and Rally’s took input from consumers before moving forward with the shipping container design, showing them two options: one that focused on the shipping containers, and another that utilized the containers in a more subtle way. “What we were able to confirm is that consumers like the idea. They thought it was cool that we were going green and using these containers. But the design they far preferred was the design more typical of our restaurants,” said Jennifer Durham, chief development officer for the dual brands' franchisor, Checkers & Rally’s Restaurants. She said many consumers thought the container design looked “cold and square.” The company ultimately chose a modern container design incorporating the brand’s original look.

Rolling out the shipping container format comes with its own challenges. “What we’re struggling with a little bit is the escalating cost,” Durham says. “There’s limited supply and a lot of demand for these repurposed containers. The facilities doing this manufacturing don’t have a lot of excess capacity.” 

Durham says the company was surprised to learn that due to the high demand for shipping containers, the modular builds are actually less expensive than the container prototypes. The modular design usually falls between $270,000 and $280,000, while the container design is generally $280,000 to $290,000. The cost of on-site builds hovers around $300,000. According to Durham, each new prototype saves franchisees about $100,000 on the cost of earlier protoypes.

Durham says that reactions from franchisees have been “ecstatic.” The company is currently in the bidding process to find manufacturers for the shipping container units, but franchisees have signed on for modular and container sites in Los Angeles; Houston; Nashville; Columbus, Ohio; Tampa, Fla.; and South Florida. Durham says the build-out time for each design should take between eight to 12 weeks.

However long the build-outs take, Durham appreciates the simplicity of working with shipping containers. “What’s great about containers is they’re a bit like Legos. They’re a standard size and shape, so you kind of know what you’re going to get regardless of where you get it.”

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