Dallas, Texas-based Brinker International Inc runs the American tex-mex specialty restaurant Chili’s Grill & Bar and Italian chain Maggiano’s. Although it had sold off a number of its other restaurant chains in recent times, Brinker has made Chili’s its mainstay and is taking it to newer markets like India, Russia and Brazil. The $2.9-billion company runs 1,500 restaurants across 31 countries, including India which it entered in 2009 with its first Chili’s in Bangalore. It has since added three more restaurants across India through its franchisee Om Pizzas and Eats.
On his recent visit to Mumbai, Don Reagan, Brinker’s vice-president for the Middle East, Canada and Europe, spoke to Shailaja Sharma about the company’s growth in India and its desire to open small batches of restaurants at a time.
How do you view business here?
We are quite happy. Representatives from Brinker — culinary representatives, operations representatives, training, marketing and supply chain representatives — are pleased. We have worked hard on detailing the food and researching menu items to meet some of the local needs. A part of researching local needs is through our guest experience measuring tool where, each guest is requested to go on to our website and give their feedback on food, service and ambience. We take that information and act on it. And we encourage this through a discount incentive to the customer. To be statistically relevant, we need a minimum of 30 feedbacks per restaurant per month and we do manage to get between 40 and 50 responses a month.
How many outlets do you want to open?
We open restaurants to match a set number. Once we achieve that set number, then contractually we ask a franchise like Om Pizzas for another contract for a few more restaurants, instead of having one contract for ‘x’ number of restaurants over 30 years. We believe in having contracts for a limited number of restaurants. This gives everybody incentive to make sure the restaurants are operating profitably and the brand is well-accepted. This is our global philosophy and we are following the same in India. In the short term, we have two more restaurants under development in Bangalore and two more in north India. There is also another outlet being opened in Mumbai.
Will you bring your Italian format Maggiano’s to India?
No, not at the present time. Right now, the focus is on Chili’s — and Chili’s alone. We have had multiple brands, we’ve sold them. We have had more success when we put in all our energy in Chili’s. The 470 restaurants that we are going to open in the next three years is going to take all our energy and manpower. We’ve had multiple brands that the parent company decided to sell and focus just on the two brands. There are a couple of sayings in the industry. One of them is, ‘get better before you get bigger’, which means focus on what you have.
After exiting the other formats, will inorganic growth ever be a part of the company’s strategy?
It’s a question that we are frequently asked and the answer typically is: “We are focused on Chili’s internationally and both Chili’s and Maggiano’s in the US.”
What are the newer markets that you are looking at?
A couple of countries are on the horizon. In the last 15 months we have opened our outlets in Russia. Also, recently, we opened in Brazil, and soon we will open in Columbia. We also have 70 restaurants in the Gulf countries and Egypt.