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Brinker International(EAT - Get Report) owns or franchises more than 1,500 casual dining restaurants spread across the globe under the Chili's, Maggiano's Little Italy banners. The vast majority of Brinker's locations are Chili's restaurants, but upscale Maggiano's is the more lucrative of the two -- the average check is approximately twice as high as you'd see at Chili's.
As casual dining gains some demand in 2012, that should provide an opportunity to build out the brand more.
Brinker dramatically changed its operations in the last few years, selling off most of its restaurant brands in the wake of the recession. While reducing exposure to chains most threatened by the recession was wise, the timing was less than perfect and left Brinker with its flagship Chili's restaurants on the lower end of the price scale and a bigger-ticket chain in Maggiano's that lacks the geographic footprint at this point to make a more material impact on sales. With competition still fierce in the casual dining space, Brinker may see its margins get even more squeezed as a result.
International expansion looks like one of the biggest growth avenues for Brinker and the Chili's brand. The firm already has an admirable international footprint right now -- but there's still plenty of room for the firm to boost its operations in places where a burgeoning middle class population is looking for American-style restaurant options. We're betting on shares of EAT this week.
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-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.