Brinker targets UK for expansion plans

12 January 2006
Brinker targets UK for expansion plans

US restaurant giant Brinker International is launching an aggressive expansion strategy, with plans for up to 75 restaurants across the UK over the next eight to 10 years.

Brinker, owner of the Chili's Grill & Bar and Romano's Macaroni Grill brands, bought back its UK franchise rights from Casual Dining Holdings, formerly run by Alan Sutton, for a rumoured £5m last month.

The group, operator of 1,500 restaurants in 24 countries, now plans to expand the Tex-Mex-style restaurants across the UK before focusing expansion on the Continent in two to three years' time.

Brinker currently has five UK restaurants - Chili's branded properties in Reading, Cambridge, Basildon and Canary Wharf in London, and a Romano's Macaroni Grill, also in Basildon.

Gavin Williams, chief executive of Brinker's UK operations and former chief executive of Tragus Holdings, said the group had an annual turnover of about £10m.

"We plan to consolidate what we've been building for the last three to five years before expanding across the UK and Ireland," said Williams.

"We'll be looking at stand-alone properties as well as leisure complexes, airports and railways. We're also considering acquisition as a method of expansion but don't plan to target the high street."

Chakker Hannah, chief operating officer of Brinker UK, said the company would also consider launching other US brands into Europe, including the Mexican-themed On The Border and Maggiano's Little Italy.

David Abramson, of property agent Davis Coffer Lyons, which brokered the transaction, said the deal was exciting news for the UK. "The concept has more than proven itself over recent years and will undoubtedly challenge the existing casual-dining market," he said.

David Farkas, senior editor of US magazine Chain Leader, said Brinker's main challenges would be finding appropriate properties and establishing the brand in the UK market. "US restaurant groups find it very difficult to go international," he said. "The expectations of the menu and service are very different in Europe."

Average spend at a Chili's restaurant is about £15 a head including drinks.

By Jessica Gunn

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