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Chili’s president discusses company restructuring

Kelli Valade says brand is “constantly evaluating” business model

Chili’s Grill & Bar’s recent restructuring and layoffs were approached with an eye to keeping the management staff close to the restaurants and guests, the brand president said Wednesday.

Kelli Valade, president of the Dallas-based Brinker International Inc. division since June, said the 1,606-unit casual-dining brand approached the restructuring to as a part of its ongoing evaluation of the business. 

Company executives, in releasing second-quarter earnings on Wednesday, said the reorganization had reduced its head count by 70. 

“It’s really about delivering what the guest wants, when the guest wants it and where the guest wants it,” Valade said later Wednesday in a phone interview. “We continue to focus on relevant and differentiated in the space.”

As of Dec. 28, Brinker had 1,658 restaurants, including 1,606 Chili’s units and 52 Maggiano’s Little Italy locations.

Here is Valade’s conversation with Nation’s Restaurant News:

How did you approach this restructuring?

We are constantly evaluating our business model. These were not easy decisions, but we’re continuing to look at and think about what we can do differently given the environments and the volatility of the industry. These were tough calls that we made. The goal, from the very beginning — it has been from the beginning — is to get closer to the restaurants and help those operators do everything it takes to really delight the guests and make them feel special.

What has happened with your area-director level?

It’s hard to explain when you are not looking at an org chart. We had a senior vice president level basically. That was eliminated. That was just three people. Then we had a regional director level beneath. We basically combined that senior vice president level with those regional directors. That involved about 30 or so people in the field, both area directors and that senior level.

Where does that leave the field structure? 

Our multi-unit level — at what we called area directors or now directors of operations — they oversee anywhere from seven to 10 restaurants. Here and there, we took that average number of restaurants slightly up to be able to do that. It’s really a “right sizing” of the organization. And, again, the focus is on helping them do everything possible to deliver a great guest experience and get them in the restaurants more.

And changes at the headquarters? 

The restaurant support center had the same approach and same goal, which was to make sure that, if we had any redundancies of service, it was all about making sure we were focused on the restaurants and helping them deliver on our passion.

What are the changes in Chili’s value platform?

Earlier in the year, we made some changes in marketing. Three courses for $10 is our current value proposition that we are advertising on TV and digital. That is doing very well for us. 

How about delivery and to-go, which Wyman Roberts, Brinker CEO, said inched up to 10.5 percent of Chili’s sales in the second quarter ended Dec. 28?

It’s about taking advantage of this occasion. We know convenience is really critical to our guests. That to-go occasion today is a growing daypart and one that we, like many, are trying to capture as much as we can.

Where are you tapping into that?

Our online platform is where we are seeing a lot of that growth. We are a leader in technology in casual dining, being ahead of our competitors. This is another area where we will continue to focus energy: on getting our great food when the guest wants it.

How is the Olo mobile platform being incorporated into the online offerings? 

It is now in all of our corporate restaurants. [As of Dec. 28, Chili’s had 935 company-owned domestic Chili’s restaurants and 14 international company owned restaurants.] We are implementing it with our franchisees this quarter and next quarter. They soon will be done as well. 

How do you communicate this restructuring plan to your employees?

We spend a lot of time communicating with our people. I’ve talked to dozens and had amazing conversations. We said goodbye to lifelong friends and family. I personally did as well. … We are now focused on making the improvements that this restructuring should allow us to do.

What’s next for Chili’s?

We have lots of things in the works. We have great ideas, a strong in food pipeline, ideas around the to-go occasion and around leveraging technology, menu innovations and some simplifications that will just allow us to run faster. 

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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