Chili’s New Protype Design in the Works to Cater to Millennials

Chili's has gone through a major overhaul. In addition to rolling out a reimage in the past couple of years, including a system wide lighting upgrade to LED and other energy-efficient lamps, the Brinker International chain has also zeroed in on Millennials as part of its new prototype design. The debuting store will launch by the end of the year in Mesquite, Texas.

Chili's marketing and design groups have scoured multiple consumer reports — including their own — to research Millennials/Generation Y patrons, says Kevin Falconer, Brinker's director of design. "A key word we found was authenticity," he says.

Falconer translated this search for story and "realness" into the redesign by bringing in real wood as well as neutral and other warm tones, accentuated by hints of the brighter reds, blues and greens, which were part of Chili's more heavily decorated past. "We also incorporated more heritage items, such as the old tin ceilings from older Chili's restaurants as well as light fixtures and other pieces that have a little more vintage flair or historical reference, but still feel like today," he says.

Part of that décor also includes framed sepia-toned photographs showing Western scenes and other iconic imagery like motorcycles, boots and windmills, though Falconer was careful to stay away from kitsch. "We wanted the look to harken back to our roots without being over the top." Texas scenes for the Mesquite store also draw on that local authenticity Millennials are looking for, he adds.

Chili's also switched out the brightly-colored, tiled tabletops of the past for minimally set, genuine wood tables in a toned-down, almost rustic approach. "Even though the tiles might have been easier to clean, they didn't always come across as clean to our guests, and they sometimes became discolored under bright lights," Falconer says.

Knowing that Millennials are a social breed, Falconer's team also looked to integrate more community-style dining, setting up longer two-, four- and six-top horizontal tables that can easily be pushed together to accommodate larger groups or create separate parties. Though the booths are "still a staple for us," Falconer says, the team lowered some of the booth height to open up the space, while also adding more banquettes to offer more choice to guests. The new LED lamps also help cast a gentle light over the tables to spotlight the food. Chili's also did away with its dark wooden blinds, switching to a translucent shade that can be rolled up and down to let in more natural light.

"We wanted to create a very vibrant, high-energy bar with the new prototype," Falconer says, again catering to older Millennials. As a result the actual bar was lengthened and flat-screen TVs were added behind the bar to integrate with the lighting. In addition, some of the once heavy partitions that separated the dining room from this area were removed to help bring some of the energy into the space, without the noise.

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