- Brinker International, parent company of Chili's and Maggiano's, is in the process of rolling out its second virtual brand, Maggiano's Italian Classics, Brinker CEO and President Wyman Roberts said on Wednesday during the company's fiscal Q4 2021 earnings call.
- Brinker anticipates Maggiano's Italian Classics will generate sales of over $100 million. The brand is now in 250 restaurants, and Brinker plans bring it to 900 restaurants by the end of the fiscal year, Wyman said.
- Brinker has leaned into the virtual brand trend since launching It's Just Wings last year. That brand surpassed a target of $150 million in annualized sales, hitting $170 million in U.S. sales, Roberts said.
It's Just Wings has been lucrative for both Chili's and Maggiano's, driving higher delivery sales at both brands during the fourth quarter, according to an earnings release.
Brinker has also invested in various technology enhancements to better handle increased off-premise sales, which now represent over 30% of sales, Roberts said. That includes an enhanced curbside takeout system and an online ordering site for It's Just Wings, where guests can order takeout and delivery. This move is expected to increase accessibility for takeout, which was previously only available through Google, Roberts said. Maggiano's Italian Classics currently has a branded website available as well, but it's just offering delivery through DoorDash.
While It's Just Wings was launched at over 1,000 restaurants virtually overnight last year when dining rooms were largely closed, Brinker is rolling out Maggiano's Italian Classics at a much slower pace because the brand is more operationally complex and dining rooms are fully open, Roberts said. The company is training staff to support the business so that it's not detrimental to Chili's dining room business, he said.
The Maggiano's Italian Classics brand also delivers higher check averages than It's Just Wings, which has a menu of more value products, he said. The two brands also have different customer targets, he said. Demand for It's Just Wings tends to surge on the weekends and on game nights, while Maggiano's Italian Classics' busiest days tend to be Sundays. The new brand is more of a family offering, Roberts said.
Brinker isn't looking to further expand its virtual brand roster anytime soon, however.
"We're not looking to have a huge portfolio of virtual brands. We're very limited. These two we're probably going to be focused on for a while," Roberts said. "We weren't going to put a brand out there that didn’t have at least $100 million in sales potential and we'll build from there. … It's Just Wings has proven that, and we think Maggiano's Classics will build through the year as we roll this thing out over the next two quarters."
In addition to Maggiano's Italian Classics, the company will also spend more to increase awareness of It's Just Wings over the next two quarters, Roberts said. Roberts said that online opportunities to advertise the brand and Brinker's knowledge of It's Just Wings target consumer makes this spending very efficient.
Brinker's expansion into virtual brands is among the most successful of the casual brands dabbling in the space. Bloomin' Brands CEO David Deno said during a July earnings call that its virtual brand, Tender Shack, isn't at the level the company wants it to be. Bloomin' plans to increase marketing and product opportunities around Tender Shack, and will continue to pursue this virtual brand business, Deno said.
Applebee's had to postpone its expansion of its Cosmic Wings brand to DoorDash — it's currently only available via Uber Eats — due to chicken wing supply issues. Brinker has had to make some adjustments to its cost dynamics on wings, but its supply chain team has been able to keep products in front of consumers, Roberts said.