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Chili's Bids Goodbye to Menu Items in Social Campaign

By Published on .

Chili's is offering larger portions of three of its top sellers without raising prices as it slims down its menu in the hopes of returning to growth. And, at the same time, it's bidding adieu to some of its departing menu items in a new social effort.

Changes laid out Monday come after Chili's said it would cut 50 items, or 40 percent of its menu, in its push to win back diners.

Chili's has a lot of work to do. Its sales are down, the number of patrons visiting has declined in four of the last five years, and the casual dining industry in which it competes has been dealing for years with people opting for faster, cheaper chains or cooking more at home. Marketing promoting the major changes is set to debut early next month.

Burgers that used to be 7 ounces are now 8 ounces. Fajitas come with 48 percent more meat. And those Baby Back Ribs with the earworm jingle are now "Texas-sized" with 30 percent more meat, the Dallas-based chain says. Prices aren't changing to reflect the larger portions.

"We don't think given where we are in this category and the headwinds facing this category that you're going to be able to win with the old game of adding something to the food and then making the guest pay more," Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer for Steve Provost told reporters Monday. "So we are doing this without taking any price and it represents a substantial investment in the core of our menu."

Chili's was losing share in burgers, ribs and fajitas, he said.

The menu culling comes after Chili's kept adding to its menu to cater to a wider variety of diners and occasions, only to realize that it lost its focus on what worked. "As we were chasing new platforms we were losing our credibility on what built us," Provost said.

One part of the menu getting a major overhaul is "Fresh Mex," where Chili's got rid of two styles of bowls, one with prime rib and one with margarita chicken; prime rib tacos and spicy shrimp tacos; and cheese enchiladas and beef enchiladas. There are now just four Fresh Mex items: chicken enchiladas, ranchero chicken tacos, a chipotle chicken fresh mex bowl and bacon ranch quesadillas.

"This menu from my view is a jolt," said Robert Derrington, managing director and senior restaurant analyst at Telsey Advisory Group. Chili's "less is more" strategy, which Derrington notes was tested for some time before the national rollout, should help raise its credibility and entice diners to return, he said.

Starting Monday afternoon, Chili's is having a bit of fun saying goodbye to items such as crispy asparagus, smoked chicken quesadillas and triple berry crumble cake. Videos for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter include humorous takes on heartfelt moments. An "In Menumoriam" one mimics the "In Memorium" moments during awards shows such as the Academy Awards. Instead of deceased actors, directors and producers it includes images of items such as Buffalo Cauliflower, labeled a broccoli impersonator.

Another video features a man struggling to leave a sirloin on a bed of asparagus behind in the woods, bemoaning, "Don't you get it? I don't want you anymore."

Chili's is also sharing recipes on Pinterest and elsewhere for more than 20 items being cut so that so people can make the dishes at home.

After the goodbye moment, Chili's plans to advertise its updated menu starting Oct. 2.

"We have a uniquely Chili's commercial that we will use to tell the world why we are back and we are going back to our roots," President Kelli Valade said Monday.

While Valade did not expressly confirm if or how the Baby Back Ribs jingle will be used, she said "hearing that jingle really connotes happier times," and later mentioned that the new campaign "will sound familiar but it will have a brand new twist."

Chili's social agency of record Fact & Fiction created the online videos and In Menumoriam content, the chain said. The creative work debuting next month is expected to come from O'Keefe Reinhard & Paul, which Chili's hired this summer for a big project.

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