A number of big restaurant chains have seen their sales skyrocket during the pandemic — now they’re inventing their own “independent” concepts
While the current upending of the restaurant industry has flattened many independent restaurants, big chains like Domino’s, Del Taco, and Wing Stop have seen their sales surge. These multinational concepts possess better quality technology and coveted drive-thru’s, and their substantial resources have allowed them to easily pivot to the new normal. Now they’re pushing ever forward to satisfy customer’s perennial desire for comfort foods while borrowing a page from today’s trends.
Brinker International, parent company of Chili’s and Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurants, launched It’s Just Wings earlier this summer. This delivery-only virtual concept takes advantage of unused kitchen capacity in 1,000 company-operated Chili’s and Maggiano’s around the country. The hyper-focused menu of wings, sauces, fries, and one dessert is only available for delivery through DoorDash.
The brand itself possesses the swagger and simplicity of an upstart independent, with its slogan of “killer wings, stupid prices.” Wings are available as bone-in, house-smoked bone-in, or boneless, accompanied by a range of chef-inspired sauces like Apple BBQ and Truffle Hot Sauce. Brinker is upfront about the brand’s origin — likely to avoid the controversy that Chuck E. Cheese faced on social media when customers found out that the chain had covertly created their own virtual brand, Pasqually’s Pizza and Wings1. The brand story that Brinker spins is focused on the creativity of their chefs to develop a menu that could be prepared quickly with popular items that travel well.
With the pandemic effectively shutting down most traditional dine-in service locations, Brinker has made a smart move by pivoting kitchen capacity as their own “ghost kitchen” and leverage the exploding popularity of chicken. Furthermore, by using their chefs for targeted menu development, a few marketing dollars for an identity and website, and undoubtedly negotiating a favorable percentage with DoorDash, Brinker has paved the way for building a rapid concept prototype.
Will other restaurant chains like Brinker fill the rapidly shrinking independent void with similar offshoot brands? The longer dine-in traffic is limited or forbidden, the harder it will be for emerging chains to stay in business. For entrepreneurs looking to jump into the restaurant industry once the COVID brush fire has swept through the country, it would be wise to look at Brinker’s model for future growth.