Brinker International Inc. is stepping up its strategy to expand more aggressively overseas with the opening earlier this month of its first Chili’s Grill & Bar in Russia.
“[International expansion] is definitely the growth vehicle for Brinker at this time and for the foreseeable future,” said Carin Stutz, Brinker’s president of global business development. “We see great opportunity for expansion. .
“We see the growing middle class in a lot of the countries out there that are really ripe for the casual-dining experience,” she said. “The Western brands have been very, very popular. We really see a lot of brand consciousness and status attached to American brands in these countries.”
In the past month, a wide variety of U.S. restaurant companies have announced plans to expand abroad, from The Cheesecake Factory taking its first steps in the Middle East to Quiznos extending its international development initiative to India. Last year, companies as varied as Darden Restaurants Inc., Morton’s Restaurant Group and California Pizza Kitchen revealed plans to go global.
With the Moscow opening of Chili’s, Brinker now has the chain’s units in 30 nations and two U.S. territories, bringing the total number to 224 restaurants abroad — which includes one Maggiano’s Little Italy location. At the end of the last quarter, Brinker had 1,295 Chili’s in the United States and 44 Maggiano’s units.
Stutz said Chili’s in Moscow — a second unit is expected to open this summer — has adapted to local tastes by offering bottle vodka service as well as toothpicks and napkins on the table.
“There is a certain legacy around our brand,” Stutz said. “We’re known for a different, bolder flavor profile, kind of a Southwestern twist.
“Those flavors interestingly carry over in any areas were we go,” she added. “Where we will adapt is in the spice level of those flavors. Some people like a spicier profile whereas some places, like Puerto Rico, want us to tone those spices down a bit.”
The Moscow unit is smaller than a typical U.S. Chili’s, employing Chili’s new smaller kitchen and fewer seats, about 188 compared to a typical U.S. count of 200. The unit employs about 70 workers.
Stutz said Chili’s will be opening its first unit in Brazil later this year and plans further expansion in India as well as Middle Eastern, Latin American and Caribbean nations.
Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].