Brinker CEO Sees Permanent Shifts In QSRs, Fast-Casual

Brinker CEO Sees Shifts In QSRs, Fast-Casual

Saying “I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the mix we ran prior,” Brinker International CEO Wyman Roberts this week indicated his belief that the months-long season of mobile order-ahead (MOA) dining in 2020 may turn into an enduring lifestyle.

Brinker is the parent company of the Chili’s and Maggiano’s eateries, both of which experienced a “pretty rough” spring, Roberts said, as did the entire dine-in restaurant universe. 

However, Roberts told CNBC that ongoing investments in technology helped the company “grow the business nicely” through its latest quarter that ended in June. 

That growth came mostly through digital channels as on-premise dining disappeared in the March-April timeframe. Noting that digital accounted for only about 20 percent of receipts pre-pandemic, Roberts sees takeout and delivery as being a much bigger part of the revenue picture going forward. About 50 percent of sales are now on-premise post-COVID. 

Tasty Experimentation 

With the National Restaurant Association projecting up to $240 billion in losses by the end of this year, larger players with access to capital and logistics are going deep with partnerships and product offerings, catering to those who are avoiding unnecessary contact, but still crave hot food. 

Quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and fast-casual eateries have been experimenting with numerous digital initiatives throughout the pandemic to bolster cash flow and stay alive. 

Brinker unveiled its third brand in June, the virtual restaurant It’s Just Wings, a partnership with DoorDash. As quoted in FSR Magazine, the company said, “For us, virtual brands are about using our scale, knowledge and experience building lasting brands and the access delivery provides in order to connect with guests in a new way.” CNBC said Roberts expects “the virtual brand … to gross more than $150 million in sales in its first year.”

More brands across the restaurant spectrum are taking these kinds of bold steps into digital ordering and delivery, blown by a brutal COVID wind into making smart decisions fast.

The Chili’s parent has been upgrading ResTech and online ordering throughout its portfolio since before the pandemic, softening what could have been more dire financials.

Marketing and Mobile Order-Ahead 

PYMNTS’ Provider Ranking of Mobile Order-Ahead Apps tracks the horserace between restaurant apps, where power players have dominated the top five all year.

Charting at No. 1, Domino’s reported double-digit increases through the spring, while No. 2 Burger King recently announced its pilot of an order-ahead tool via Facebook’s Messenger chatbot. At No. 3 is Starbucks, followed at No. 4 by Chick-fil-A and its aggressive omnichannel loyalty program, with the Dunkin’ app at No. 5, rounding out the most recent MOA ranking. 

Marketing is becoming more crucial as aggregators and the apps of individual chains vie for share of wallet. Chili’s recently flexed its muscle in this regard with a cleverly timed promotion built around singer Chantel Jeffries, whose new single “Come Back to Me” dropped in May. For that promotion, DoorDash diners could “attend” the dinner party from home and order food from the restaurant’s menu, chosen especially for the May 14-17 event.