Chili's to lure millennials with technology, menu appeal

by Monica Watrous
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DALLAS — Chili’s is chasing millennial consumers with on-trend menu items and mobile technology. The casual dining chain plans to expand on the recent roll-out of tabletop tablets with improved on-line ordering and a loyalty program in the coming year.

“[Technology is] one of the things we think is compelling for millennials is to engage them; they want to be engaged,” said Wyman Roberts, chief executive officer and president of parent company Brinker International Inc., during an Aug. 7 earnings call with financial analysts. “They want loyalty more than any other demo based on some recent research I have seen.”

But the heart of Chili’s sales and traffic growth is culinary innovation. The recent introduction of Chili’s Fresh Mex menu was developed in part to lure burrito bowl-loving millennials to the brand. Other Fresh Mex items include quesadillas, fajitas, enchiladas, tostadas and crispy tacos.

“Obviously, things like Fresh Mex, if you look at some of the fast-casual guys out there that have done fairly well — I won’t mention names — they seem to be doing fairly well with the millennials,” Roberts said. “So, the product offer has to be right for them. And so we are working on all those fronts because again we have a good base in millennials, but we think we have to grow that as well.”

In the year ahead, the chain will add more Fresh Mex offerings, plus an “exciting” new platform that Brinker declined to disclose during the call. “The food innovation pipeline is full and strong and poised to drive traffic,” Roberts said.

The rollout of Ziosk tabletop tablets during the year not only has improved efficiency in Chili’s restaurants by allowing users to order refills and add-ons. The technology also has delivered useful customer feedback to the company.

“We’ve got more guests providing feedback to us than anyone,” Roberts said. “I don’t think anyone in the retail space has the kind of data we have now through our Ziosk system. And so how good we are at managing that data to deliver better guest experience is where we think the payoff is.”
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