After finding a new CEO six months ago, the company isn't done yet with reimagining its structure.
Roughly six months after naming a new CEO, Chili's is once again shaking up its leadership team.
Parent company Brinker International, which also oversees Maggiano's, announced Tuesday that Aaron White, who started as an hourly team member and has been with Chili's for 20-plus years, was promoted to Brinker's chief people officer. She most recently served as co-COO of Chili's for almost two-and-a-half years, overseeing operations for more than 500 restaurants. White also worked as senior director of PeopleWorks, the company's human resources department.
“I’ve had a passion for this industry since I started working in restaurants in high school, and I’ve always been motivated by supporting the growth and development of Team Members throughout their careers,” White said in a statement. “I’m honored to take on this role and am ready to tackle our retention goals and redefine our labor model to better support our operators and Team Members.”
White is taking on the role with a decent staffing situation ahead of her. The casual-dining company said in May that labor was above pre-pandemic levels. According to Brinker's Sustainability Report last year, it wants to increase the average total earnings of general managers to $100,000 in the next three years. In fiscal 2021, 2,011 hourly workers were promoted to certified shift leaders (CSLs) and 643 CSLs were bumped up to management. A survey from spring 2021 found 83.3 percent of Chili's operations leaders and 90.6 percent of Maggiano's operations leaders like their job. Additionally, 88.7 percent of Chili's leaders and 90.9 percent of Maggiano's leaders said they will still work for the company in six months.
Additionally, Brinker revealed that Wade Allen, formerly senior vice president of innovation, will move back to his role as Brinker's chief digital officer. His primary focus will be growing the company's off-premises business (Chili's earns $1 billion in annual sales outside the four walls). Allen joined Brinker in 2014 as vice president of customer engagement and digital innovation before becoming chief digital officer from January 2018 to June 2020.
“My roots are in technology, data security and analytics, and I’m excited to continue to use technology to transform and improve the off-premise experience for our Guests,” Allen said in a statement. “Chili’s has always been a leader in leveraging tech in the industry, and we will continue to innovate and make strides with ease, personalization and hospitality at the forefront.”
Allen oversaw Chili's Rita the Robot, an automated machine that could host, serve, buss, and lead birthday songs. The brand said in April that the test would grow to more than 50 restaurants in eight states. However, new chief executive Kevin Hochman said leadership was determining whether to accelerate technological initiatives based on their ability to impact sales, and through that lens, Chili's decided to suspend the robot project.
The executive switches are just one of many ways Hochman, who started in June, has put his fingerprints on the Brinker business. George Felix, who used to work for KFC like Hochman, was announced as Chili's new CMO in July. In terms of strategy, Hochman is also looking to cut deep discounting, reduce costs in the back of house, and rightsize its approach to virtual brands.