The new model comes as Brinker faced pressure from staffing shortages, the Delta variant, and commodity inflation in the first quarter. Chili’s same-store sales grew 8.8 percent in July compared to two years ago, but decelerated to a 3.1 percent increase in August. In September, comps lifted 7 percent, and through October 13 (the beginning of Chili’s Q2), they grew 7.3 percent.
Maggiano’s comps upped 1.6 percent in July, but lowered 2.2 percent in August and 0.5 percent in September, compared to two years ago. Through October 13, same-store sales lifted 1.5 percent.
Restaurant operating margins decreased to 10.4 percent in Q1, down from 11.6 percent last year. The primary drivers of that trend were 150 basis points of higher labor costs and 60 basis points of higher commodity costs. However, Brinker noted that a large piece of increasing labor costs are transitory, including training, productivity, overtime, and bonuses.
Chili’s earned $58,000 in average weekly sales per restaurant in July, but $55,000 in August. The figure dipped to $54,000 in September. CFO Joe Taylor explained average weekly sales typically remain flat between July and August, yet this year proved to be uncharacteristic because of all the macroeconomic factors.
Taylor estimated Chili’s lost roughly 3–4 percent in comps because of short-term constraints. Regions most challenged include the Midwest and California.
“That’s an opportunity for us,” Taylor said. “As pleased as we are with our ability to drive topline, we’re still leaving sales on the table. We still have restaurants that have not been able to fully open, staffing issues are forcing some restaurants into limited hours, inability to open fully, particularly when you think about Fridays and Saturdays where you really get those volumes.”
The good news for Chili’s is restaurants are starting to capitalize on the opportunity. Month-to-date in October, average weekly sales per unit are at $55,000.
Roberts said turnover is decreasing and restaurants are basically staffed to pre-COVID levels, on average. There are some hot spots where stores are struggling more, but he believes the system is past the “911” situation it experienced in the past.
At higher career levels, retention remains steady. General managers have an average tenure of 11.6 years, while directors of operation stay 19.2 years and vice presidents of operation 17.9 years. Brinker has also observed employees returning to restaurants after leaving for another industry. The manager rehire rate is 10 percent, versus 4 percent in 2019, and the hourly rehire rate is 21 percent, compared to 13 percent in 2019.
To improve workplace quality, Brinker leadership implemented multiple changes to remove stress for restaurant employees, including how it trains new managers. Beforehand, managers learned from modules and were then tasked with training other managers. The company is now accelerating and testing a method in which it offers live classes from its headquarters and trains all managers across labor, production, and their own well-being.
In addition to training, Brinker has made sure restaurants aren't losing sales because of short supply. Roberts shared employees once drove U-Haul trucks to restaurants when a distributor didn’t have enough drivers.
“We are responding to these COVID headwinds with increased focus on hiring and retention efforts, and working with our partners to gain further stabilization of the supply chain environment,” Roberts said in a statement.
Brinker’s total revenue increased to $876.4 million in Q1, compared to $740.1 million last year and $786 million two years ago. Adjusted operating income in the first quarter grew to $30.2 million versus $28.4 million in the year-ago period and $31.8 million two years ago.