Is There A Difference Between Checkers And Rally's?

We all know the differences between major fast food chains like McDonald's and Taco Bell — but what about the lesser known ones that you may not see in every state? If you live in Oregon or Colorado, you may never have sampled the deliciousness that is Checkers and Rally's, but residents of most of the eastern United States (and a few on the West Coast) have likely tried their tasty selection of burgers, fries, and wings (the latter of which are a tasty low carb option). But if you've been lucky enough to visit both, it's inevitable that you noticed uncanny similarities between the two. So what's the difference here?

It's true that today, Checkers and Rally's have the exact same menus, and dish out food from the same suppliers. They even use the same support center, located in Tampa, Florida. And if you go to both of their websites, it pretty much looks like a different logo was slapped over the same homepage. The main distinction, then, lies in the histories of these two fast food chains, and how they each ended up becoming part of the same company.

What is Checkers?

Unlike juggernauts like McDonald's, which goes all the way back to the 1940s, Checkers has only been around since 1986. Back then, Jim Mattei debuted his burger joint in Mobile, Alabama, centering his idea for a new business around a drive-thru. Before launching Checkers, Mattei had been a real estate developer and Wendy's franchise owner, and felt that fast-food businesses could be more profitable if they focused more on the drive-thru portion and less on the inside dining area. He didn't last long as a solo entrepreneur, since Carl Karcher Enterprises (who owned Carl's Jr. and Hardee's at the time) took on the majority of Checkers' debt in 1996 following its expansion into the southeastern U.S. in the early 1990s.

The chain allegedly got its name from the plethora of checker taxis in Alabama at the time, and that name carried through to its branding. To this day, many of its items are served in black and white checkered wraps and boxes. While it started out as a burger joint with a limited menu, today you can find everything from hot dogs, to chicken sandwiches (which came in at number 12 on our fast food ranking), to wings, along with desserts like funnel cake fries, slushies, and cheesecake sundaes. But you can also nab a classic cheeseburger here, which we rated our 10th favorite out of 13 popular fast food options.

What is Rally's?

Rally's first opened in 1984 in Tennessee, around the same time as its future partner-in-crime, Checkers. It was founded by Jim Patterson, who also created Long John Silver's, and who later went on to become a Wendy's franchise owner as well. Instead of expanding solely in the southeastern U.S., Rally's also meandered up into the Midwest. After it went public in 1989, it acquired other drive-thru restaurants like Zipps and Snapps Drive-Thru.

In the same vein as Checkers, Rally's initially focused its energy on its drive-thrus, and didn't include indoor or outdoor seating in almost all of its locations. It emphasized a small menu that quickly churned out affordable food. Versions of some of its original menu items are still sold in Rally's today, including the Big Buford, which boasts two burger patties and all the fixings: American cheese, iceberg lettuce, tomato, red onion, dill pickles, ketchup, mustard, and mayo. Instead of the black and white color scheme of Checkers, Rally's drive-thrus back in the day leaned toward a 1950s diner aesthetic.

Checkers took Rally's under its wing

The famous merger between Checkers and Rally's occurred in 1999. Carl Karcher Enterprises (CKE) purchased Rally's first in 1996, and then sold it to Checkers three years later, which sparked the creation of Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, Inc. Since both companies were honed in on drive-thru models that produced fast, affordable food, it was an arrangement that made sense. But it took a few tries to get to the acquisition, as Rally's initially started talking with Checkers in 1994 following financial losses.

The fact that Checkers acquired Rally's may explain why most of the Rally's branding essentially disappeared, and it instead took on its new owner's signature black and white-patterned packaging. Its logo changed as well — from a red and white image with a grinning person holding a hamburger, to one that matched the Checkers 1999 logo, which also included the iconic pattern. In addition to the aesthetic changes, Rally's moved its headquarters from Kentucky to Florida, where Checkers was housed.

Even as of April 2024, there are 509 Checkers locations in the U.S., and only 313 Rally's. So while the stores may be exactly the same in the ways that count, the name of the one nearest to you depends on which state or city you're in. Ohio only offers Rally's and New York only has Checkers, for instance — but if you live in Michigan, you can decide between 20 Rally's and 40 Checkers locations.