Brinker International (NYSE:EAT) has launched a national delivery-only chicken wings chain "virtually overnight" as it confronts the challenges to eat-in dining due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The owner of Chili's and Maggiano's Little Italy expanded the It's Just Wings concept nationally after testing it on a limited basis since November, meaning it will be available at over 1,000 locations.

Order of fried BBQ chicken wings

Image source: Getty Images.

The "secret recipe"

Orders from It's Just Wings are cooked in the kitchens of Chili's and Maggiano's, meaning the dining concept exists only virtually. Customers place orders through DoorDash, which then delivers the food to the customers door.

Nation's Restaurant News quoted Brinker CEO Wyman Roberts as saying, "Between our exclusive partnership with DoorDash, more than 1,000 company-owned kitchens across the country and 45 years of operational expertise, we had the secret recipe to leverage our scale to provide quality food at a value straight to the guest's door." 

Stifel Financial analyst Chris O'Cull viewed the creation of "a new restaurant chain with 1,000 distribution points virtually overnight" positively and maintained his buy rating on the stock.

This kind of virtual restaurant could be the future for casual dining chains, which are still struggling to attract customers even as they're reopening following the lockdown. Darden Restaurants (NYSE:DRI) says its Olive Garden chain is running into the dual problem of capacity limitations on seating and social-distancing requirements. It is testing the installation of Plexiglas barriers to get around the constraints.

Virtual kitchens and so-called ghost kitchens have grown in popularity during the pandemic, but Brinker's national footprint gave the concept immediate scale. Although the wings will be prepared in Chili's and Maggiano's restaurants, It's Just Wings will be a distinct brand within Brinker's family of chains.