Direct service joins the company's efforts to engage new and loyal customers.

It took six years of experimentation for Chili’s to take the third-party delivery dive. The casual chain linked up with DoorDash in June at more than 1,000 restaurants. And although the partnership has been successful to date, the company says, it was time for Chili’s to bring the convenience-driven outlet to its own channels as well.

On October 1, Brinker International’s 1,612-unit flagship rolled out delivery features on its website and app, which allow customers to order directly through those channels, in addition to DoorDash’s platform. The brand featured online ordering previously, but it was reserved to pick-up or curbside.

Chili’s freshly minted chief marketing officer Ellie Doty, who was promoted from her VP of marketing role on September 23, says the move is all about streamlining the process for guests.

The chain even launched the news under the campaign, “ChilEASE,” a play on how customers pronounce “Chili’s.” 

“The reason for now is really because this is what our guests are asking of us,” Doty says. “This is how our guests want to include Chili’s in more occasions that they’re having at home.” 

DoorDash will facilitate the delivery orders.

READ MORE: Chili’s 3 for $10 anchors its impressive comeback.

Customers are constantly searching for dining solutions and convenience, Doty adds. Naturally, that often means looking to a fast-casual or quick-service brand. Doty says Chili’s new delivery features offer diners a chance to replace those experiences at a full-service restaurant. 

Also, it gives Chili’s the opportunity to grow its reach in established markets. From dinner parties and stay-at-home date nights to “just you, your jammies, and Netflix,” the brand can now be more intimately involved in convenience-driven occasions, Doty says. 

The company doesn’t fear cannibalization from being on both channels. DoorDash appeals to customers who are more familiar and comfortable with the app than Chili’s necessarily. They tend to dine by product, like Tex Mex, and are spontaneous with brand selection. They don’t know exactly what they want at first glance and have the opportunity to discover Chili’s for the first time. The new, in-house digital channels are geared toward core customers who seek out Chili’s, Doty says. 

“One of the reasons we wanted to create a delivery function in our own channels is because we want to make it as easy as possible for those folks who love Chili’s and come to our site for it,” she says. 

There are a few bonuses of ordering directly through Chili’s, Doty says. The ability to order ahead for pick-up and curbside is not available through DoorDash. 

Customers are also able to redeem rewards from the My Chili’s loyalty program. Currently there’s about 6.5 million engaged users. Chili’s wants to expand to about 8 million, Doty says, and believes the new functions will help it get there. The chain launched a members-exclusive deal with the news. Users can access free delivery from October 8–14.

Chili’s is able to curate personalized rewards through its email program. Now, the brand will be able to collect more data from the website and app to develop its one-to-one marketing capabilities further.

Off-premises sales only make up a small percentage of Chili’s business, but since launching delivery with DoorDash that percentage is growing. Brinker CEO Wyman Roberts said last quarter that Chili’s witnessed “significant incremental off-premises growth that’s accretive to margins.” He pegged the incrementality in excess of 80 percent, which mirrors what Chili’s saw in pilots.

Chili’s tested delivery with “all of the big players” for two-plus years and over an extended period from multiple different channels, Roberts added.

Yet, despite the growth, there remains plenty of room to grow, Doty says.

“One of the reasons we’re focusing on creating great experiences because as our guests have that experience, we want to make me want to make sure they want to come back again, because we believe that it is part of our future,” she says. 

Chili's Ordering Screen

In order for the off-premises side of the business to work smoothly with the rest of the Chili’s operation, the technology is fully integrated into its point-of-sale. The tech eliminates “clumsiness in the kitchen, slow downs, possibility for errors in orders,” Doty says. 

Chili’s recently rolled out a new nationwide training program to ensure employees are properly trained to handle both sides of the business. The new program focuses on accuracy to eliminate mistakes in off-premises orders. 

“There’s nothing fun about getting home with the wrong order,” Doty says. “We definitely don’t want that to happen in Chili’s.”

The new ad campaign joining October’s direct delivery announcement emphasizes the convenience of delivery with Chili’s and making a customer’s home with the brand. Some of the messaging plays on classic Chili’s slogans, like “Hi, welcome to your place!” 

“The great Chili’s experience is now at home,” she says. 

Chain Restaurants, Delivery, Feature, Chili's