Pal's Sudden Service, normally called Pal's for short, is a regional fast food restaurant chain located in northeast Tennessee and southwestern Virginia, with stores concentrated in the Tri-Cities, Tennessee metro region. The first Pal's opened in 1956 in Kingsport, Tennessee a year after the founder of Pal's, Fred "Pal" Barger, attended a National Restaurant Convention in Chicago and met Ray Kroc and Fred Turner, observing the construction and equipment they used for the first McDonald's restaurant. Pal's CEO is Thom Crosby.
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Pal's is notable for their unique organizational culture. Pal's training is unique and includes pop quizzes and over 200 hours of training for employees, which results in significantly low turnover for the industry. As of 2004 only four managers had voluntarily left the organization in the preceding 15 years. In 2005, Pal's reported that order accuracy at Pal’s Sudden Service stood at one mistake for every 3,360 transactions, a vast improvement over the rate of one in every 450 transactions which is the standard in the industry. In addition, Service time—measured from the time a car stops at the hand-out window to the time it begins moving again—is 18 seconds at peak periods, which is 49 seconds quicker than the next fastest competitor in a third-party analysis. Due to these rarities the organization is often studied by competition and used as a case study for Industrial/Organizational Psychologists.
Pal's has always featured a limited menu. Items must not only be popular, but efficient to make. Lunch items are served open to close. Some of the most popular items are:
- Tea – Called "Pal's Tea" locally, a quart-sized cup of sweet tea. This is Pal's most popular item, served from open to close, largely because area workers can buy it in the morning and drink on it all day at work. Made using Pal's own proprietary blend of tea.
- Milkshake - Vanilla, Strawberry, Chocolate (Peanut Butter and Peanut Butter+Chocolate Mix at Pal's #01, #02, #06, #08)
- Big Pal – A 1/3 lb hamburger on a large bun with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, and onion. (Also with Cheese and as Double Big Pal)
- Sauce Burger – a standard burger with "sauce": a ketchup based sauce with light BBQ flavorings.
- Jr. Burger – small version of the Big Pal. Standard with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, and onion. (Also with Cheese and as Double Junior Burger)
- Frenchie Fries – French fries sprinkled with seasoning salt.
- Hot Dog – a hot dog bun with a weiner, mustard, onions, and chili
- Chili Bun – a hot dog bun with chili, mustard, onions and no weiner.
- Chili Burger (also as a small chili burger) – 1/3 lb. cheeseburger topped with Chili and onions.
- Chipped Ham Sandwich – A chipped ham sandwich on a 5" bun with mayonnaise, lettuce and pickle.
- Big Chicken Sandwich - A deli style chicken on a 5" bun with cheese, mayonnaise, spicy mustard, lettuce, and tomato.
- Toasted Cheese Sandwich – A Big Pal bun flipped inside out with two slices of melted cheese, mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato.
- Coke Products
Pal's Breakfast items:
- Gravy Biscuit
- Country Ham Biscuit
- Sausage Biscuit
- Butter Biscuit
- Chicken Biscuit (Deli style chicken)
- Cheddar Rounds - Pal's signature breakfast side item.
- Orange Juice
Pal's offers the entire dinner menu during breakfast as well.
Pal's is also noted for their health scores which predominantly run between 96-100 which are also inspected on a monthly basis by their own in-house inspectors to ensure quality and cleanliness.
At Pal's #01, the exterior is covered with red and white subway tiling, and has a large red sign that is lit up every night. The neon glow shows up saying Burgers, Shakes, and Pal's in their unique logo font. One of the notable features of Pal's is the architecture of the buildings. Pal's #02 has long featured a "Muffler Man" called Big Pal holding a hamburger on the roof. The newer Pal's restaurants are box-shaped with a tiered front decorated by a Big Pal (Hamburger), Hot Dog, an Order of Frenchie Fries and drink cup. Until recently, Pal's #02 also featured a 50's-style lighted sign. The sign was replaced. Originally, Pal's #01 had a poured concrete front and customers had to go to a window under a cement awning.
- 1956 - First Pal’s opened Kingsport #01
- 1967 - Brook's Circle Pal's #02(a different building & location than Pal's #12) The earliest drive thru called Circle Burger.
- 1985 - First box/tier design drive thrus open in Kingsport. Pal's #03 in Colonial Heights.
- 1990 - Pal's #05 opened in Johnson City
- 1991 - Greeneville #06 and Gate City #07
- 1992 - Pal's Johnson City Mall #08 and Elizabethton #09
- 1993 - Pal's #10 Volunteer Parkway
- 1994 - Pal's #11 Bristol Highway
- 1995 - Pal's Brook's Circle #12 and Rogersville #13
- 1997 - Pal's Morristown #14
- 1998 - Pal's #15 and Big Breakfast Introduced
- 1999 - Pal's opens in Bristol at Exit 7 #16
- 2001 - Pal's Wins Baldrige National Quality Award
- 2002 - President Bush presents Pal's the Baldrige Award
- 2003 - Two new Pal's, Gray #18 and Blountville #19.
- 2006 - Pal's opens in Jonesborough Pal's #20.
- 2007 - Pal's celebrates the 20th year of the "Big Tea"
- 2008 - Pal's opens in Lebanon, Virginia #21
- 2008 - Founder Pal Barger is on board the MS Nautica when it is attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden.
- 2009 - Pal's opens in Greeneville #22
- 2009 - Pal's introduces Razzie Tea
- 2009 - Neon sign at Pal's #2 taken down due to high costs of operation
- 2010 - Pal's opens in Norton, Virginia. #23 It has the biggest opening in Pal's history.
- 2012 - Pal's introduces new 3D website http://www.palsweb.com Pal's #24 Boone's Creek opened.
- 2013 - Pal's opened Pal's #25 Jefferson City and Pal's #26 Erwin, Tennessee locations.
- 2015 - Pal's opened Pal's #27 Bristol, Tennessee & Pal's #28 Morristown East
- 2016 - Pal's opened Pal's #29 Sunset Drive, Johnson City
- Reuters: Pal's Sudden Service Shares Secret of its Success
- GoTricities: For me, it's the sauce, man
- The chili is of a high quality and contains only meat, not beans as a filler.
- Pal's founder aboard cruise liner targeted by pirates