Emerging Brands

Chili's parent bets on a second virtual concept

Maggiano's Italian Classics features Italian standards, with an emphasis on $10 lunch combos.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The parent of Chili’s, Maggiano’s Little Italy and It’s Just Wings is adding another brand to its fold, a virtual concept called Maggiano’s Italian Classics.

The menu consists of classic red- and white-sauce Italian offerings, from spaghetti to fettuccini Alfredo, portioned for lunch, family-style meals and more traditional dinner-sized entrees. In addition, customers can order several appetizers and either a Caesar or an Italian salad.

The venture also offers a number of empanada-like hand-held fruit pies as desserts.

Lunch combos include a salad and are priced at $10, with a lower ticket for kid-sized portions of mac ‘n cheese and penne Alfredo.

The items are available exclusively for off-premise consumption and during specified hours, according to the concept’s listing on DoorDash’s ordering platform.  

“It’s more of a value product,” said Wyman Roberts, CEO of parent company Brinker International.  Still, the typical check is higher than the average tab for It's Just Wings, the company's first virtual vehicle.

About 250 restaurants in Brinker’s portfolio are currently offering the Italian Classics line. The company anticipates the new brand will be rolled out during the third and fourth quarters. 

He noted that the venture is projected to meet Brinker’s requirement that any virtual brand generate at least $100 million in annual sales. In the past, Roberts has projected year-one sales for the company’s first virtual venture, It’s Just Wings, at $150 million.

The Italian array is “a little bit more complicated than just a wings product because there’s a little more breadth to the offerings,” Roberts said. “It’s also a higher check-average product.”

He told investors that Maggiano’s Italian Classics broadens Brinker’s appeal without much risk of cannibalizing sales of the company’s other brands. In particular, the venture has proven complementary to It’s Just Wings.

“The thing that we love about these two virtual brands is they work against different targets. The wings guest is not the same as the Maggiano’s Italian classics guest,” said Roberts. The former tends to be used by sports fans, particular on big viewing days like a Sunday, he explained to investors. Maggiano’s Italian Classics tends to be more popular among families.

Both ventures are intended to help Brinker retain sales during what executives characterized as a time of flux in consumer behavior. The company had expected takeout and delivery sales to moderate more than they have as customers resumed dining on-site, Roberts explained. But “there's still a lot of concern about COVID with consumers," he continued. "There are still some consumers that are preferring takeout to dine in."

In general, “as the delta variant has picked up some steam, we have seen some softening,” said Roberts, though he didn’t specify as to whether he meant traffic or sales. “We’re still above the F’19 base, but with the uncertainty of the pandemic, we’re just unsure” about what’s ahead.

But he stressed that the company doesn’t foresee a repeat of the backslide the nation experienced economically when COVID-19 infections spiked in November and December.

Brinker launched It’s Just Wings about 14 months ago. At the time, the company noted that it had evaluated a variety of delivery-only ventures, some of which might merit a launch down the line.

Roberts cautioned financial analysts not to expect more introductions near-term. “We’re not looking to have a huge portfolio of virtual brands,” he said. “These two are probably going to be our focus for awhile.”

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