Texas-based Chili's slashes menu but beefs up the burgers
Aiming to get back to its roots and rekindle interest, Dallas-based Chili's has dramatically trimmed back its menu, removing nearly 50 dishes. The menu's been shrunk by 40 percent, from 125 items down to 75.
Goodbye, crispy asparagus. Goodbye, grass-fed burger. Goodbye, triple berry crumble cake.
According to chief marketing officer Steve Provost, the company will refocus on its most popular and successful items, namely burgers, ribs, and fajitas.
"Those are the dishes where Chili's has had appeal for over 25 years," Provost says. "Burgers, ribs, and fajitas — those are our big three categories."
Dishes going away include:
- mango tilapia
- crispy asparagus
- buffalo fried cauliflower
- jalapeño wings
- loaded white queso
- Southwest chicken soup
- Southwest mac and cheese
- margherita salad
- turkey and chicken sandwich
- prime rib fajitas and carnitas fajitas
- ancho-crusted steak and honey chipotle shrimp-topped steak
- grass-fed burger
- prime rib fresh Mex bowl
- margarita chicken bowl
- chicken, cheese, and beef enchiladas
- spicy pasilla chile chicken
- spicy shrimp tacos and pork carnitas tacos
- chipotle chicken flatbread
- smothered smoked chicken burrito and smothered carnitas burrito
- smoked chicken quesadillas
- triple berry crumble cake
Many of the outgoing dishes are healthy-ish and gourmet-ish. But if anything, Chili's is doubling down by bumping up the portion size on the original trio. Burgers are now 8 ounces, a full half pound, up from 7 ounces. Fajitas have 48 percent more meat. Baby back ribs have 30 percent more meat. So much meat.
"It's possible that some guests could find a half pound burger polarizing," Provost says. "However, we invented the 'big mouth burger' back in 1995. The reality is, guests want juiciness in their burgers, and size is directly related to juiciness."
Chili's opened its first restaurant on Greenville Avenue in Dallas in 1975. Back then, the restaurant was known as a burger shack with 25 menu items, and that includes beer and margaritas. In 1986, they introduced an "emerging" dish called fajitas, even offering a helpful "fa-heet-ah" phonetic pronunciation guide.
As bar and grill restaurants proliferated, so did Chili's menu, peaking in January 2017 with 125 appetizers; entrees; desserts; cocktails; and add-ons, including sections devoted to burritos, enchiladas, and flatbreads, with ingredients ranging from cauliflower to quinoa, making it one of the largest chain restaurant menus. That's when Chili's said, Enough.
Kelli Valade, president of Chili's, acknowledges that the cuts could disappoint customers. "We know there's risk here," she says. "Every dish that's being taken off has someone who likes it. But I think we're at a moment where less is truly more, and the idea of focusing on our core menu is necessary to get back to prosperity."
Hoping to distract from the subtractions, Chili's has mounted a campaign with humorous videos posted on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. A clever one called "Menu-morium" rolls out a soft-focus montage of clips of the dishes being retired, reminiscent of the Academy Awards' video tribute to film stars who've passed away.
Chili's is also sharing recipes on Pinterest and other social media outlets for more than 20 of the items being cut. "We know there are guests who will want to make that Southwest mac and cheese at home," Valade says.