Chili's is ditching 40 percent of its menu, betting big on fajitas, burgers and ribs

Key Points
  • Casual dining chain Chili's is ditching more than 50 items, or 40 percent of its menu.
  • Streamlining the menu will allow it to focus on guest experience and food quality and make things easier for kitchen staff, said Kelli Valade, president of Chili's.
  • Customers will notice larger portion sizes starting Sept. 18, she said.
Chili's is ditching 40 percent of its menu

Chili's is hoping that less really is more. The casual dining chain known for its fajitas and burgers is slimming down, ditching more than 50 items from its menu.

The Texas-based restaurant company said Friday that by removing 40 percent of its menu items, it will be able to focus on guest experience and food quality, and make things easier for its kitchen staff.

"We've invested heavily," Kelli Valade, president of Chili's, told CNBC. "We've invested millions."

As part of this investment, Valade said the company has made its burgers, ribs and fajitas bigger and better. Customers will notice larger portion sizes starting Sept. 18, she said.

"I think that guests will see that they can get all the great things they love, just faster, hotter, served quicker, and it will be a better overall experience for everyone," Valade said.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons Chili's is narrowing its focus from 125 menu items to 75 is the behind-the-scenes trouble the larger menu was causing. Valade said the kitchen was stretched thin and, with a smaller menu, the company can give guests a faster experience, which has been an issue for the restaurant.

These days customers are looking for quick and customizable food that doesn't cost too much and can be delivered to their doorstep. This has driven them away from sit-down staples like Chili's and toward less traditional chains like Shake Shake and Blaze Pizza.

Back in June, JPMorgan analyst John Ivankoe cited Chili's as one of the casual dining restaurants that have been facing a laundry list of challenges, including losing foot traffic to fast casual chains, inflating menu prices too high and being unable to adapt fast enough to in-demand food trends.

Ivankoe called shares of Chili's parent company, Brinker International, a "value trap."

At the time, he said that Chili's needed to focus on its core products, like its baby-back ribs and fajitas, to have a chance at boosting customer satisfaction and, in turn, sales. He said the restaurant would also benefit from cutting prices or improving food quality.

It seems that Chili's is taking that advice to heart.

"We grew our menu a bit, and we weren't being the best versions of ourselves," Valade said. "We are getting back to our roots."