Looking to move beyond its partnership with DoorDash, Brinker International has integrated its virtual brand, It’s Just Wings, with Google and Google Maps. Now, people can search can “It’s Just Wings near me” on Google and find one of more than 1,000 participating kitchens. If available, Customers can pay directly through Google Pay and can pick up the order at a local Chili’s Grill & Bar and Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurants .
“We’re dedicated to continuously improving the digital guest experience, and It’s Just Wings has been a no-frills, virtual-only concept from the beginning with value, ease and convenience in mind to meet Guests’ needs,” said Wade Allen, senior vice president of innovation at Brinker. “Our investment in technology and integration with Google gives our guests a new experience that allows them to control when and where they place an order and how they decide to pay, including contactless payment.”
Brinker launched It’s Just Weeks in August as a virtual brand using the excess capacity at Chili’s and Maggiano’s. The company has seen solid growth with the brand and wants to move beyond the initial phase.
“We believe there is significant upside,” said Brinker president and CEO Wyman Roberts during a recent earnings call. “So we are focused on building it into a strong, sustainable brand.”
When it was started, the brand was only delivered through a partnership with DoorDash. The company is projecting revenue will exceed $150 million for the first year of the virtual brand and is looking at other distribution channels. Brinker International foresees virtual brands as a new revenue center for the company outside of the dine-in experience
“One of the things we like about the virtual brands is the flow-through and the ability to leverage the existing structures and operations and management teams we have in place. We are learning how to invest into those brands,” Brinker International Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Joseph Taylor said.
The integration with Google could be one of the first steps in the evolution of the brand. It’s Just Wings was only marketed through DoorDash and word-of-mouth. The company has not spent a huge amount of money marketing the brand but sees sporting events as a key driver of sales.
“What we are seeing as we learn how to promote, particularly around sporting events, some nice incrementality off of that,” Taylor said. “So again, there is a number of ways we are now learning how to grow the brand, how you market it, how you tie it to different sporting events and now how we take it to other channels.”
One of the challenges for any brand looking to move outside the third-party delivery system is customer data. The third-party delivery companies do not provide customer data and thus restaurants are limited in the followup interactions with customers. More first-party orders outside of DoorDash can increase those distribution methods. Brinker is looking at ways to collect data from people who order from It’s Just Wing and use that as a marketing tool.
“We are primarily a one channel brand right now,” Robert said. “So we are a DoorDash brand. .. I mean there is some PR and some other things that have been out there., but most of it, it is either word of mouth or you are learning from it on DoorDash. And the growth and all the acceptance and the repeat numbers are all real positive. We are excited about how the brand is building.”