Pizza, flatbreads roll-out pleases Chili’s

by Eric Schroeder
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NEW YORK — Pizzas and flatbreads, which Chili’s Grill & Bar launched earlier this year, have been an “interesting roll-out,” said Guy Constant, executive vice-president and chief financial officer for Brinker International, the parent company of Chili’s.

“I don’t think it necessarily surprised us, but pizzas have tended to be more attractive to our core guests,” Mr. Constant said during the Goldman Sachs Lodging, Gaming, Restaurant and Leisure Conference held June 4 in New York. “They tend to be more attractive to male guests. And they tend to be more used as an entree.
“Whereas flatbreads tend to be more attractive to lighter or lapsed users from the brand. They tend to be more attractive to females. And they tend to be more used as an appetizer.”

Overall, Mr. Constant said Chili’s has been pleased with the mix it has been able to get from the products, and it is on pace to achieve an 8% to 10% menu share from the pizzas and flatbreads. He added the restaurant chain has not seen as much incremental traffic from the roll-out as it expected, so it will look at different ways to “tweak the messaging” and drive the trial it needs in the products. That said, strong consumer scores have encouraged the company.

“We know we’ve got a winner on our hands once we can get people to try it,” he said.

The biggest challenge, he said, is getting consumers to give Chili’s credit for serving pizza and flatbreads, two products the restaurant chain has never served before.

“If we can break through that trial challenge, I think we’ve got something that will be very successful for us,” he said.

The flatbreads are available in three varieties: Margherita, Chipotle Chicken and California Grilled Chicken.

The pizza is available in four varieties: five-cheese, pepperoni, Southwestern chicken and taco. Available in 6-inch and 9-inch sizes, the baked-to-order pizzas feature a crust with a crisp finish. Toppings include mozzarella, Monterey and pepper Jack cheeses, seasoned ground beef, pesto, pico de gallo, and cumin-lime sour cream.

The pizzas and flatbreads were made possible through the addition of ovens at Chili’s, something the restaurant chain’s kitchens did not have for the past 35 years. Now that the ovens are in place, Mr. Constant said Chili’s will be able to move forward with other menu innovations as well.

“Certain types of Mexican items are items that we never could have made,” he said. “Or if we made them, we couldn’t have made them at the same type of quality that we believe we need to compete in today’s marketplace. Other items such as baked pastas, other seafood items, appetizers, desserts. It opens up a lot of possibilities for us that really now aren’t challenges just thinking about pacing those items and how we introduce them at the right intervals in order to get the maximum opportunity from them in terms of driving guest traffic.

“But not only are those new platforms very important, but we’re able to cook the food more consistently. We’re able to reduce our ticket times. And that’s all the upside.”

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