NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The reinvention of sit-down dining is on full display at Brinker International (EAT), which operates almost 1,600 Chili's restaurants around the world.
Out are the five-pound gooey nacho cheese dishes; in are tabletop tablets that allow customers to order their lower-calorie dinner and trendy alcoholic drinks.
Sit-down chains such as Chili's, DineEquity's (DIN) Applebee's, and TGI Friday's are under major pressure to retool as fast-casual rivals such as Chipotle (CMG) and Shake Shack (SHAK) steal diners away.
Chili's is currently halfway through a three-year reinvention of its menu, removing scores of less popular dishes and focusing on food that falls under categories the company calls "Fresh Mex" and "Fresh Tex." Both menu categories, which began to arrive in restaurants in January 2014, have a history etched in the very DNA of the Chili's brand, explained Brinker International president and CEO Wyman Roberts in an interview.
"We are on a journey to get Chili's more relevant," said Roberts.
The latest edition of the Southwestern cuisine-focused Chili's menu are best epitomized by its "top-shelf tacos," inspired by the rustic street tacos often found on local food trucks.
Chili's top shelf carnitas tacos feature slow-cooked pork over jack cheese, chimichuri sauce and house made pico de gallo. Elsewhere, the Chili's homepage is now showing off Dr. Pepper-flavored ribs and chili-rubbed salmon.
Brinker International, with a long history in the burger category, also revamped Chili's entire burger lineup in the fall. The revamp has introduced a "craft burger" section to customers that includes a guacamole burger and a sweet and smoky burger infused with mango BBQ sauce.
"We think our burgers will play a role in our Fresh Tex platform; we will lean into it with bolder, richer flavors," noted Roberts. A clearer point of differentiation for Chili's in the form of Southwest cuisine could give the brand's burger business a shot at gaining favor among the crowd in love at the moment with better burger joints Shake Shack and Five Guys.