Chili's burger
Chili's recently employed a new cooking procedure for its burgers.

DALLAS — Behind a strategy of balancing its message with a mix of value, innovation and quality, Brinker International Inc. was able to deliver positive mix and margin results, the company’s top executive said during an April 25 conference call with analysts. Despite the headway, though, the company still faced challenges that weighed on earnings and sales in the quarter.

Net income in the third quarter ended March 29 was $42,369,000, equal to 87c per share on the common stock, down 26% from $57,502,000, or $1.01 per share, in the same period a year ago. Net sales during the quarter fell 2% to $810,641,000 from $824,639,000.

Wyman Roberts, Brinker International, Chili's, Maggiano's
Wyman T. Roberts, president and c.e.o. of Brinker

“We’re making progress, but we’re not satisfied yet with our performance,” said Wyman T. Roberts, president and chief executive officer. “We’re on a journey to reclaim market share, and that drives everything we do. Our guests have made their feedback clear: their dining experience needs to be faster, the food needs to be hotter, and they still want high-quality products at a great value. So our team is focused on implementing solutions to improve those specific aspects of the guest experience.”

Mr. Roberts said Brinker has made a commitment to simplify its menus at its Chili’s Grill & Bar restaurants to improve execution on signature items. But in simplifying the company has not abandoned innovation, he said.

Chili's chicken crispers
Chili’s has upgraded the quality of its chicken strips and introduces such offerings as honey chipotle chicken and waffles.

“We’re making improvements across our menu in quality, craveability and presentation with the goal of becoming best-in-class,” he said. “For example, during the third quarter, we moved to a smash burger, a new cooking procedure that produces a juicier product and cuts the cook time nearly in half.”

He said Chili’s also has upgraded the quality of its chicken strips to an all-natural chicken with new flavors such as Buffalo bleu cheese and honey chipotle chicken and waffles. Chili’s also has upgraded its fajitas with nearly 50% more protein and the addition of rice and beans with every entree.

“We’re concentrating on innovation on our core menu,” he said. “We’re simplifying execution. We’re also optimizing technology to enable a faster, more convenient guest experience. Our ongoing efforts to leverage technology have earned us a recognition as a leader and a pioneer in creating a digital guest experience in casual dining. Now we’re leaning into the foundation we’ve built to take the guest experience to the next level in a way that others can’t easily replicate.”

Maggiano's Denver Steak
Maggiano’s Little Italy introduces a new Denver steak.

Brinker’s other restaurant concept, Maggiano’s Little Italy, delivered a solid third quarter behind the brand’s biggest menu change in 25 years, Mr. Roberts said. The change was the result of Maggiano’s shifting its menu focus to highlight the brand’s scratch kitchen, as well as the introduction of chef-inspired pasta and entree selections such as a new Denver steak.

“It’s hand cut in-house by our chefs; this steak has outperformed expectations and it gives us a competitive value advantage in the steak category,” Mr. Roberts said. “Since the new menu launched in early March, we’ve seen improved momentum in sales and guest satisfaction, especially with weekend brunch, which we’re excited to introduce to even more guests during this fourth quarter.”