What is in this article?:
- Brinker CEO aims to reinvigorate brands
- Looking ahead
Wyman Roberts discusses his new role as CEO of Brinker and what he has planned for the Chili's and Maggiano's brands.
Brinker CEO Wyman T. Roberts.
What are the best opportunities for casual dining in 2013 and the years ahead?
You kind of have to segment it a little bit. In bar and grill, from a Chili’s perspective, it’s still always going to be about a value proposition. How are you going to take share? It’s going to be a share battle. It’s still a huge pie. And half of that pie is independents. How are you going to take share from that half of the segment? That’s where we use our size and scale to generate and develop more innovative and relevant product, and bring it to the market more quickly. We can develop marketing programs and systems that are going to be very difficult for an independent to create and get scale. That’s where our size helps us a lot.
When you think about the chain side of the pie, it’s our ability for the Chili’s culture to come to life and deliver a better experience than most concepts that are chain delivered. Our passion in this organization is making people feel special.
What about international growth?
Global doesn’t happen quickly. There are a lot of things to learn wherever you go. In Mexico, we are closing in on a hundred restaurants. We’ve gone through a lot of learning to be successful. We just opened two restaurants in Costa Rica in the past month. What we’ve already learned in that part of the world makes it easier to open in new markets. Middle East is another great market for us. We also see opportunities to take those markets we’re already in and fill them out.
What’s the biggest challenge for casual-dining brands?
It’s this whole path to greater and greater relevance, continuing to challenge ourselves to push and bring innovation and raise the bar on execution. … There’s no rest in the business.
Chili’s has had success with the “2 for $20” and Lunch Combo platforms. What other initiatives helped the brand through the recession?
For 35 years we had one daily menu. We never really thought about how the world had changed and how lunch and dinner had become separate. We couldn’t expect how dinner prices would work at lunch the same way. That was one big step. We built that to fit with the Chili’s brand. … We decided to run our own race. … We went through the research process, and figured out how it worked: Does this say Chili’s, or is it generic? There were some little things we did that made us say, “Now that’s Chili’s.”
It’s easy for competitors to copy or mimic your efforts, so how do you protect your branding?
It’s very hard to create positioning off innovation. As soon as you come up with something, someone can knock it off. And vice versa. But when it’s true to who you are, then it’s hard for people to knock it off if they are not lined up with you. Chili’s has a unique position, the Southwest position. Maggiano’s has a unique position that’s “abundant Italian.” We do have territory that is unique to us. They can see what we are doing, but it’s harder to knock it off.
How is Chili’s positioned?
The Southwest positioning for Chili’s really, in today’s world, just fits perfectly where the consumer is going. In the terms of flavors, consumers are looking for more interesting, more spicy. That’s part of our DNA.
What do you have planned for Chili’s, Maggiano’s and Brinker?
Food innovation with the new kitchens rolling out at Chili’s. All the company restaurants are done. All 816 of those are done. And we are deep into the franchise community, and they will be done in a couple of months. That platform will let us leverage it across the country. There is some very exciting food that couldn’t be done at Chili’s, and now it can be done.
Any other areas?
There are some very exciting things going on in the marketing area, between social and consumer relationship marketing. We leverage a database and have a very large number of our guests that we have a good relationship with already. We think we can take that to another level. That’s where a lot of energy is going, and that will hit the restaurants in the next six months to a year. It will significantly step up our impact from a marketing perspective.