What is in this article?:
- Brinker chairman Doug Brooks on the casual-dining scene
- Major changes that have worked
35-year industry veteran and former Brinker CEO speaks with NRN about the past, present and future for Chili’s and Maggiano’s
Brooks says casual-dining restaurants "democratized eating out."
Major changes that have worked
What were some of the changes that moved the needle positively?
First it was team service … and then it was the kitchen and then it was technology and now, last, it’s reimage. In every case, there’s a win with a metric for the team member, for the guest and for the business.
What’s been the impact on sales?
Maggiano’s, through September, has had 11 quarters of positive top-line. Our global restaurants are up 11 quarters in a row. And Chili’s domestic is now [up] seven quarters in a row.
What are the best opportunities for casual dining?
There’s still 50 percent of the [casual-dining] pie that is smaller companies. [Brinker’s size allows] borrowing money to build and providing things like health care. There’s also a greater chance that organizations of that size don’t offer health care, where we do. So we think the impact will be less for us.
What has the kitchen renovation program provided?
Our team sizes are smaller. We’re more efficient than ever before. We’ve taken costs out of our P&L over the past several years.
Anything that didn’t work so well?
Several years ago we tried soup, salad and chips as a lunch deal. It was a good value, but people didn’t buy it. Then two years ago we introduced a Chili’s-style sandwich with French fries with salad or soup, made it a Chili’s combo and our lunch sales turned positive.
What has the reimage program done?
It’s not your father’s Chili’s anymore. The bars are really, really cool, with lots of video. It will let us compete more than ever before.
How will health care reform impact the company?
We don’t think there’s going to be a big impact. There are some idiosyncrasies in the individual mandate versus the employer mandate, but we feel really good about what we have and don’t think it will have as big an impact as some people thought. … The exchange part of it is still unknown, what the offerings from the federal exchange or state exchange will be. We aren’t sure of that yet.
Where is Brinker investing now besides the reimaging?
We’re investing in an innovation center right here on our campus [at Brinker headquarters in Dallas]. Our test kitchen we have today is woefully outdated and undersized. We are taking one of our buildings here on campus and in about 60 days will open a 17,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art test kitchen and consumer research [center]. … We will be doing a lot of research right here on campus that we had farmed out. Our chefs, our insights teams, our marketing folks will be able to work faster.
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