Brinker International’s It’s Just Wings virtual brand is partnering with Google to allow customers to order pick-up from their nearby Chili’s restaurants using Google Search and Google Maps.
Customers who search on those Google sites for “It’s Just Wings near me” — the virtual brand Brinker launched last year for delivery only — will be able to find a participating Chili’s near them and place an order.
Brinker introduced It’s Just Wings last spring as a delivery-only brand prepared in the kitchens of about 1,050 of Chili’s 1,600-plus restaurants. It was available exclusively through DoorDash, which is Brinker’s delivery partner.
By late June the brand was generating $3 million per week in sales, or about $150 million in annualized sales, the company said.
Wade Allen, senior vice president of innovation at Brinker, said the Google partnership could significantly expand the reach of the It’s Just Wings brand.
“There are hundreds of millions of searches per week conducted around food in Google, so when you consider that kind of volume, that’s an opportunity we definitely want to play in,” he told Nation’s Restaurant News. “This partnership allows us to have our virtual brand front and center.”
Although DoorDash also offers a pickup option for customers, most of the orders through that channel are for delivery, Allen said.
Promoting both the delivery option and the pickup option allows the company to meet the demands of consumers who prioritize the convenience of delivery as well as those who are seeking value in terms of price, due to the lack of fees involved in pickup. To promote the new service, Brinker will shift some marketing investment into search keyword purchases and search engine optimization.
Developing more direct, one-to-one communications with It’s Just Wings customers, he said, could translate into more customer-retention or loyalty marketing opportunities, for example.
Brinker had discussed the possibility of expanding the availability of the virtual brand, and the potential for promoting it via direct marketing, during its second-quarter earnings call with analysts in January.
“We have these infrastructures in place to do direct marketing very well,” said Wyman Roberts, president and CEO of Brinker, in the second-quarter call. “We will deploy that against the It’s Just Wings brand.”
He noted that the company believes the customers who order It’s Just Wings are largely different from the customers of Chili’s, which will serve to expand marketing opportunities for both brands. Chili’s has a well-established direct marketing channel via its My Chili’s Rewards program.
“DoorDash is a great partner. They share a lot of information in broad terms,” said Roberts. “They don’t share individual guests contact information. We are working with them to be more aggressive and to partner at a higher level with regard to trading loyalty data or at least giving guests the opportunity to become Chili’s loyalty guests through the DoorDash app.”
Brinker — which is planning to expand its virtual brand portfolio — also reported that it has been seeing a boost in sales for the It’s Just Wings brand in conjunction with recent sporting events.
Allen said the chicken wing brand resonates particularly well with the young male demographic, and sports tie-ins are a natural fit. E-sports — competition via video games — in particular present a marketing opportunity, he said.
“It’s a big play,” said Allen. “We have tapped into a couple of e-sporting platforms that we feel are pretty powerful, and it resonates really well with this target [audience]. You will probably see a little more of us in the future at these kinds of e-sporting events, and e-sporting activations.”
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include new information from Brinker officials.