Brinker starts Italian virtual brand

A bowl of pasta with sauce.

Written by James Shea

Brinker International has found success with the It’s Just Wings virtual brand and is now implementing a second virtual brand — Maggiano’s Italian Classics. The company uses its brick-and-mortar locations, like Chili’s as ghost kitchens, and sells the food for takeout and delivery through DoorDash.

The menu is Italian fare, including salads, fettuccine parmesan, lasagna, shrimp alfredo and breadsticks. The virtual brand is a spin-off of Maggiano’s Little Italy, one of Brinker’s core brands.

Speaking during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call, Wyman Roberts, Brinker CEO and president, said the concept is up and running in 250 locations, and he hopes to have 900 restaurants by the end of the year. He said the process of getting the virtual brands up and running has been slower than expected.

“It’s taken us frankly a little longer than I would have thought to just get the infrastructure up and running to support this aspect of that virtual brand, but it’s up now,” Roberts said.

He part of the challenge is marketing a virtual brand. A company cannot easily purchase airtime on television and radio. Google and social media are the only real outlets, and the company is still experimenting with what format works best.

“It’s Just Wings has gone live with a website that offers online ordering for takeout as well as delivery, and we’re excited about the growth potential for the brand,” he said. “These technology investments are helping us do a better job handling the increased mix of off-premise business from pre-pandemic mid-teens to what’s now more than 30%.”

Since the pandemic started, the company has moved virtual brands into 1,000 restaurants and invested in the infrastructure to make virtual brands possible. The It’s Just Wings brand surpassed $150 million in company-owned sales, and he expects it to continue growing this year.

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