DALLAS — Guacamole is not a new menu item for Chili’s Grill & Bar — but tableside guacamole is. The concept, in which the appetizer is customized and prepared at the customer’s table, illustrates a new fresh focus from parent company Brinker International Inc.

“We’ve had guacamole forever,” said Wyman Roberts, CEO and president, during an April 23 call with financial analysts to discuss third-quarter earnings. “Our guests love it. We have just freshened it up and we are bringing it to them now in a way that really shows the freshness and the quality of the product Chili’s makes. Every day, we were always making fresh guacamole, but now we bring it right out front and we show them and we let them customize it. And so it just starts to not only add to the options they have as a guest, but it starts to change some of the perceptions around what is really going on in a kitchen at a Chili’s.”

Chili's introduced mix-and-match fajitas earlier in the month.

Brinker’s menu strategy for the Chili’s brand involves renovating core items “that need to be kind of brightened, freshened and rethought from a presentation perspective,” Roberts said. New beverage offerings showcase the theme, too; a margarita introduced during the quarter features tequila infused with blueberries and pineapple for 48 hours before serving.

“It has been a very successful product for us so far,” Roberts said. “In fact, it has contributed to the best alcoholic beverage mix we have ever seen, taking us to over 14 percent year to date.”

Customization also carries Chili’s message of freshness. Mix-and-match fajitas introduced earlier in the month offer customers a pick-two or –three option of grilled chicken, steak, shrimp or pork carnitas atop a bed of sizzling bell peppers, onions, chipotle-garlic butter and chopped cilantro. The dish is presented with a variety of new toppings, which includes cheddar cheese, fresh guacamole, pickled onion and jalapeño relish, cumin-lime sour cream, house-made pico de gallo and fresh salsa, plus flour or corn tortillas.

“… and that is how we will continue to strategically work through our menu, by renovating core items to make them more compelling for today’s guest and innovating by bringing fresh new items to key platforms that align most closely with who we are as a brand,” Roberts said.

The company hopes the menu refresh, along with other initiatives that include new tabletop ordering and payment devices, will turn up the traffic in its restaurants. During the third quarter, guest counts declined by 1.2 percent. Still, patterns have improved, according to the company.

A margarita introduced during the quarter features tequila infused with blueberries and pineapple for 48 hours before serving.

“Obviously, this quarter there were some other things impacting the results, primarily weather,” Roberts said. “So when we factor all that in, we are not happy with where we are at. We want positive traffic. We know that is important and we are working towards that, but we do feel that the strategies that we are employing are going to get us there and they are working towards that as we speak.”

Net income for the third quarter ended March 26 was $56,263,000, equal to 85 cents per share on the common stock, up 8 percent from $51,951,000, or 73 cents per share, in the prior-year period.
Revenues totaled $758,408,000, up 2.1 percent from $742,759,000 the year before.

Comparable sales at company-owned restaurants increased 0.7 percent, driven by increases in price and improvement in mix that partially offset the decline in traffic.