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Frances Allen, CEO of Checker's and Rallys, speaks with Nancy Luna on this week's episode of Extra Serving.

How Frances Allen, the new leader of Checkers & Rally’s, tossed aside her CEO playbook when coronavirus upended the restaurant business

On the job for less than two weeks, Allen created an emergency response plan to prepare the 900-unit chain for a crisis that has left the industry broken. The industry veteran talks about the restaurant industry’s future in the latest edition of NRN’s Extra Serving podcast

Listen to this podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotify or SoundCloud.

After starting as CEO of Checkers & Rally’s Restaurants in mid-February, Frances Allen quickly began implementing her “first 100 days” plan for the Tampa, Fla.-based quick-service chain.

The former leader of Boston Market was in a “listen and learn” mode, getting to know the brand by working at restaurants cooking burgers and traveling around to different markets to meet operators, she said during NRN’s Extra Serving podcast.

But by day 11 on the job, she tossed her playbook aside as she saw a crisis in the making. It was Feb. 28, around the same time the Centers for Disease Control had identified the first case of suspected local transmission in the United States.

She told her leadership team that they needed to develop a COVID-19 response plan for the chain, which has about 900 Checkers & Rally’s restaurants. 

She’s been in crisis mode ever since, working from her kitchen in Colorado to help keep restaurants open, while also ensuring the safety of customers and employees.

Restaurant CEOs like Allen have been working round the clock to keep restaurants afloat amid this coronavirus pandemic. But few leaders have had to do it before getting to intimately know their leadership team and franchisees.

“There's nothing like a crisis to bring out the best and the worst of people. And I'm very pleased to say as a new leader that the Checkers & Rally’s team has really impressed me, not only from their dedication to the business and their optimism, but also for their amazing acts of kindness,” she said.

The selfless acts have come despite operators facing their own economic challenges.

While a majority of the chain’s 900 restaurants have remained open, many operators have had furlough workers or reduce their hours as consumers shelter at home. Yet, many franchisees are feeding frontline workers at hospitals and providing free meals for school-age children.

“The restaurant business is incredibly generous, but when people are going through such hardship themselves, it amazing to see the selflessness and just the care for the community. So I am beyond impressed,” she said.

Yet, the threat to the restaurant industry is real.

Allen, a veteran leader at brands such as Denny’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, talks about the uncertain future that lies ahead and how she’s preparing Checkers & Rally’s for worst case scenarios. 

While her company’s drive-thru restaurants are faring better than most, she said businesses will not be able to sustain the “kind of battering” created by the outbreak unless they have a huge cash reserve.

Her projection: “There will be permanent closures across all [restaurant] sectors,” she said.

Listen to her story in our Extra Serving podcast.

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven

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