The chain’s continued growth reflects consumer preferences for Italian-American fare; it’s also a direct product of smooth, systemized operations.

Chili’s may have stolen the spotlight during Brinker International’s quarterly earnings call this week, but Maggiano’s consistent performance illustrates why so-called Americanized basics still win in the Italian category.

In the second quarter ending December 26, the chain delivered a 1.8 percent boost in comp sales along with a foot traffic uptick of 1.3 percent. Year-to-year sales were up 1.5 percent, representing some $120.9 million in revenue.

“This 25-year-old brand set more than 100 sales records during the quarter including a record-breaking sales day across the brand at more than $3 million and the busiest day in a single restaurant at nearly $116,000 in our 22-year-old Tyson’s Corner, Virginia location,” said Brinker International CEO Wyman Roberts during the investor call.

The numbers are encouraging if not unexpected. For one, the holiday season is primetime for the chain; a combination of its relaxed atmosphere, extensive family-style dining options, private-dining banquet space, and competitive price points make it a welcome alternative for time-strapped (and guest-laden) customers.

Still Maggiano’s success is too steady to attribute to seasonality alone, as evidenced most recently by the chain earning top marks as America’s Favorite Casual-Dining Chain, according to Market Force Information’s annual study.

“That speaks to the power of the brand and the strength of the business,” Roberts said of the honor.

So what exactly is the power behind Maggiano’s that drives it to this level of success?

The secret is in the proverbial sauce.

1. Casual makes a comeback

One contributor to Maggiano’s strong performance lies outside the business itself. Ever the swinging pendulum, consumer preference is warming again to casual dining after several relatively chilly years. That category along with fast casual appeared to have reached rock bottom in terms of sales growth and traffic in 2017. According to TDn2K, last year marked an improvement for both segments. And unlike fast casual, which is rapidly approaching oversaturation, casual dining still has runway ahead.

2. The best of both worlds

Maggiano’s may have been categorized under the blanket “casual dining” term by Market Force Information but in many ways it falls under upscale-dining criteria. The atmosphere is more refined than say Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill. The prices are proportionally a bit higher, too, but Maggiano’s brings the culinary chops to back it up. Each restaurant has its own executive chef whose photo and biography are put front and center on the website.

That’s all good news for the brand; even though TDn2K dubbed casual dining and fast casual the most improved categories, upscale casual and fine dining still performed the best thanks to higher average checks and positive sales growths averaged over the past three years.

3. More bang for your buck

For all its chandelier-filled dining rooms and chef-led kitchens, Maggiano’s pays close attention to its value proposition. Guests might splurge on a big dinner (entrées running up to $40 in certain markets), but the chain takes care to ensure they don’t feel shortchanged. Last August, the longstanding Double the Portion, Not the Price policy was extended to carryout orders, giving consumers hefty portions—to either share or save as leftovers.

4. At your service—and then some

When it comes to hospitality, the Italian category has built a reputation for warm welcomes and friendly service. To that end, Maggiano’s takes extra measures to accommodate its guests. In addition to being the most popular chain per Market Force, it was also named the most allergy-friendly large chain by AllergyEats last spring, and it’s not the first time such an honor has been conferred on the brand.

Maggiano’s also hangs its hat on convenience—a quality more often associated with the limited-service side of restaurants. In addition to carryout and catering, it also offers delivery service and has done so long before the third-party boom of recent years.

“We’ve been doing delivery at Maggiano’s for 10 years. So we have our own delivery system. We understand the implications of delivery and both the positive and the negative,” Roberts said. The chain is also testing the waters with third-party delivery, as demonstrated by a BOGO special last summer in partnership with DoorDash.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Feature, Sapore, Maggiano's