(Adds details, analysts' comparisons, updates shares)
Jan 22 (Reuters) - Brinker International Inc reported a better-than-expected 7 percent rise in quarterly profit as same-restaurant sales at its Chili's chain rose for the first time in a year.
Brinker shares rose nearly 9 percent in early trading to their life-high.
Full-service U.S. restaurants such as Chili's and Darden Restaurant Inc's Olive Garden have been struggling to compete with chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc and Panera Bread Co, which offer frugal diners high-quality meals at lower prices.
The full-service restaurant category, also known as casual dining, has been aggressively promoting deals to lure diners but success has been limited.
Sales at company-owned Chili's restaurants open for at least 18 months rose 0.7 percent during the quarter, compared with a 0.3 percent decline estimated by analysts' polled by Consensus Metrix.
Susquehanna International Group analyst Rachael Rothman had expected Chili's same-store sales to decline 0.7 percent in the quarter, hurt by a drop in traffic and average checks.
Wells Fargo analyst Jeff Farmer had expected Chili's same-restaurant sales to be flat.
Brinker's same-restaurant sales rose, helped by new menu items, increased restaurant capacity and higher prices.
The company launched a new Southwestern menu, Pretzel Roll sandwiches and a "Holiday Favourites" menu.
Chili's recently introduced eight menu items, including enchiladas, fresh Mex bowls, tostada and crispy tacos.
"We believe these new items will appeal to the core Chili's consumer better than the pizza platform that launched about a year ago," KeyBanc analyst Christopher O'Cull said.
Net income rose 7 percent to $39.7 million, or 58 cents per share, in the second quarter ended Dec. 25, from $37.2 million, or 50 cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding items, Brinker earned 59 cents per share.
Total revenue rose 2 percent to $704.4 million in the second quarter ended Dec. 25.
Analysts on average were expecting the company to earn 58 cents per share on revenue of $699.2 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Dallas-based Brinker's shares were up 6.6 percent at $49.75 after touching a high of $50.74 on the New York Stock Exchange early on Wednesday morning.
(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar and Siddharth Cavale in Bangalore and Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Joyjeet Das)