Chili’s Grill & Bar plans this quarter to expand technology to a loyalty program, wait lists and the redemption of American Express credit card reward points for meals, the CEO of parent Brinker International Inc. said Tuesday.
Chili’s, which was the first casual-dining brand to roll out tabletop tablets, sees technology as a point of differentiation, Wyman Roberts, Dallas-based Brinker’s president and CEO, said in a call discussing third-quarter earnings.
“It’s really an exciting time at Chili’s from a technology perspective,” Roberts said. “We’ve laid the foundation to drive a personalized, new-school experience, unlike other casual-dining companies.”
The new loyalty program, which is called “My Chili’s Rewards,” is just one way the company aims to drive sales and traffic, he said.
“This program provides a fully digital experience, where guests can use their mobile phone or our website or [tabletop-tablet] Ziosk device to sign up for the program or use or track points,” Roberts said. “And they can use Ziosk to redeem their points when they dine with us.”
In addition, Chili’s plans to extend its partnership with Ziosk and American Express to extend the pay-with-points system for cardholders.
“Guests can swipe their American Express card on our Ziosk device and pay for their meal with their AmEx reward points,” Roberts said.
Chili’s reward points remain active if customers make purchases once every four months, he added.
“The points will expire after 120 days, so there’s an incentive for people to keep coming back to renew them or to get more points,” Thomas Edwards, Brinker’s recently appointed CFO, explained.
Chili’s is providing redemption levels for its entire menu and not limiting it to certain items, executives said. Points can be redeemed directly through the tabletop tablets without server or manager intervention.
Roberts said the loyalty program will allow Chili’s to observe customer’s preferences and interact with them in more targeted ways.
“What we’re able to do is tailor the conversation to be much more specific to what appeals to you,” Roberts said. “Based on the information you share with us and what we get from our system, we’ll know your dining preference and your food preference and your drink preference and we can help tailor the loyalty rewards and make it more specifically what’s appealing and motivating to you individually.”
In addition to the loyalty program, Chili’s is introducing a “NoWait” list that will migrate in July to the brand’s smartphone app.
Roberts said the new wait list will let restaurant hosts give more accurate wait times and text guests when tables are ready.
“In July, we will enhance the Chili’s mobile app to enable guests to understand the wait time and add their name to the list and then track their place in line so they can show up when their table is ready,” he said.
Roberts said Brinker’s brands will likely raise menu prices 1 percent in the middle of the fourth quarter.
“As we look at the industry, we do see many of our competitors taking large price increases, and we believe that with our strong value ratings we have room to take additional pricing,” he said. “We think there is an opportunity to close that gap and take some pricing that we may have been a little bit conservative on.”
Brinker reported on Tuesday a 16.3-percent increase in profit before special items for the third quarter ended March 25, rising to $65.4 million, or $1.02 a share, from $56.3 million, or 82 cents a share, in the same period a year ago. Revenue increased 3.3 percent, to $784.2 million, from $759.3 million the previous year.
Combined domestic company and franchised Chili’s Grill & Bar restaurants saw a 2.2-percent increase in same-store sales, and Maggiano’s Little Italy same-store sales were essentially flat, rising 0.1 percent. Company Chili’s units saw same-store sales rise 1.9 percent in the quarter, and franchised units saw a 2.5-percent increase.
Brinker owns and franchises 1,629 restaurants, including 1,580 Chili’s locations and 49 Maggiano’s units.