Chili's is cutting 40% of the items on its menu, or 50 in all. No, Baby Back Ribs aren't going anywhere.
The menu overhaul, set to start on Sept. 18, is part of Chili's strategy to reinvigorate its sales growth. The casual-dining chain, which started in 1975 with an emphasis on burgers, has seen its traffic go down in four of the last five fiscal years as the company chased trends and expanded its menu to offer more variety. But few people, it seemed, wanted to go to Chili's for quinoa or asparagus. The chain's U.S. comparable sales fell 2% in fiscal 2017 following a decline of 2.2% in fiscal 2016, the company reports.
The company already has a new marketing leader in Steve Provost, who became chief marketing and innovation officer in March, and hired O'Keefe Reinhard & Paul for a big project earlier this summer (chances are, it's promoting this new menu overhaul).
Chili's admits its menu was overstuffed, both watering down its brand and making kitchen prep more difficult, which in turn annoyed customers who had to wait longer for their meals. When the menu change goes into effect, there will be 75 items for sale at the Brinker International Inc. chain, down from the bloated lineup of 125. Chili's said when it started out there were just 25 items on the menu, including beer and margaritas.
The menu cuts are even deeper than those outlined in April when executives laid out a plan to offer 20% fewer menu items, and in line with last month's announcement of a 30% to 40% reduction.
They also said Chili's plans to spend millions to improve the quality of its food and the value of core items that helped it succeed in the past, such as burgers, ribs and fajitas.
Chili's won't share the full list of cut items, though it did announce the departure of Mango Tilapia, Crispy Asparagus and Buffalo Fried Cauliflower. We can't say we'd argue with those choices, plus, there are quite a few others we wouldn't miss. Here, the top five items we think should vanish:
Spiced Loaded Boneless Wings: They're described as boneless wings smothered in white queso, three-cheese blend, applewood smoked bacon, roasted jalapenos and chopped green onions, served with a side of "house-made" ranch. (There's also a version without the jalapenos, which should also get the axe.) With regular wings, boneless wings, nachos, queso and everything else in the appetizer lineup, no one would miss it.
Margherita Flatbread Salad with Shrimp: It's pizza. Topped with salad. Topped with shrimp. No. Just … no.
Prime Rib Fajitas: Chili's has chicken, steak, black bean and veggie, shrimp and prime rib versions of fajitas. Do people really need a prime rib option? After downing a couple of margaritas or beers, who even notices what kind of meat it is?
Cheesecake: When ordering big burgers, fajitas and baby back ribs, perhaps there's still room for dessert. Hopefully, treats like the skillet cookie with ice cream stick around. But a rich New York-style cheesecake from a Tex-Mex-meets-burger-bar chain doesn't fit.
Pepper Pals Cheesy Chicken Pasta: Take it from a parent—99.999% of the kids who come in for pasta with cheese on it want Kraft Mac & Cheese, which is on the menu. If that rare child with a discerning palate wants a different pasta, have them order from the adult menu. Business bonus: higher revenue.