Transparency, innovation major focus for Brinker

by Max Sosland
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Maggiano's Chef Select dish
Maggiano’s now offers different recipes for appetizers, a pasta entree, a fish or chicken entree, and dessert every 30 days.

DALLAS Brinker International, Inc. convened its 2016 Investor Day on June 9, with innovation initiatives as a main point of discussion. John Cywinski, executive vice-president of strategic innovation, and Steve Provost, president of Maggiano’s Little Italy, discussed in detail examples regarding innovation surrounding its restaurants’ menus.

In September 2015, Maggiano’s rejuvenated its Chef Features program. The restaurant now offers different recipes for appetizers, a pasta entree, a fish or chicken entree, and dessert every 30 days.

Steve Provost, Maggiano's
Steve Provost, president of Maggiano’s Little Italy

“So since September, we brought 55 recipes that have never been seen before in our history to our guests,” Mr. Provost said. “We are confident — with our purchase cycle — that will translate into traffic next year.”

Maggiano’s also is testing a menu with 25 new dishes, which, Mr. Provost said is driving traffic growth in the two test restaurants. The growth is noted by Mr. Provost to be similar to that in 2010, when Maggiano’s tested Classic Pasta.

Maggiano's Classic Pasta lasagna
Maggiano’s is testing a new menu, which Mr. Provost said is driving traffic growth similar to when Maggiano’s tested Classic Pasta.

Mr. Cywinsky described craft burgers, one of the new products served at Chili’s Bar & Grill. The restaurant introduction of the 100% grass-fed, no added hormones, no antibiotic hamburgers comes at a time when transparency is being stressed, he said.

John Cywinski, Brinker
John Cywinski, executive vice-president of strategic innovation for Brinker

“It’s something that our guests can choose in addition to our other burger patties that we offer,” Mr. Cywinsky said. “So, a meaningful example of how we focus on transparency and bring that to life in-restaurant moving forward.”

The new burger offering adds variety, an element of choice, to the restaurant chain’s menu.

Chili's Craft Burgers, Brinker
Chili's recently introduced craft burgers featuring hamburgers that are 100% grass-fed and contain no added hormones or antibiotics. 

“Bringing that new burger option is, I think, really going to be a game-changer for us,” he said. “Not overnight, but it just starts this conversation about, ‘hey, Chili’s is about choice.’ And if that’s what you want, our menu has a lot of variety on it.”

Also mentioned by Mr. Cywinsky in his remarks was the primary focus moving forward on innovating the core, center-of-the-plate items. He mentioned in particular a steak dish being introduced on sizzling skillets.

“The equivalent of the skillet sizzle within our restaurants is — it’s like that margarita shaker moving through,” Mr. Cywinsky said. “It’s very much a new school presentation of a great core equity.”

Chili's Steak Skillet, Brinker
Part of Chili's innovation is serving dishes on sizzling skillets.

Relating flavors around seasonal or themed occasions was another point of emphasis for Mr. Cywinsky.

While the focus was on the core products, Mr. Cywinsky said appetizers, desserts and beverages were three areas that were going to be of significant focus for innovation as well.
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