- Chili’s Grill & Bar has announced George Felix will be the chain’s next CMO, starting on July 21, per a press release.
- Felix arrives with years of experience in the restaurant industry, including as CMO of Pizza Hut and director of marketing at KFC, both owned by Yum! Brands. He also served as CMO of Tinder and at Procter & Gamble overseeing mobile strategy and innovation.
- The news comes as Chili’s has been updating the customer experience, including by expanding automation and opening an e-commerce shop. Owner Brinker International underwent a recent leadership change when CEO Wyman Roberts retired in June and Kevin Hochman took over the role.
Felix arrives as CMO of Chili's at a time when the casual chain is experiencing shrinking profits as prices rise, resulting in its stock declining. Casual chains have been struggling for several years and pandemic induced inflation and labor shortages aren’t helping. However, the biggest culprit may be shifting consumer tastes, with millennials, which overtook baby boomers as the largest generation in 2020, largely preferring to cook at home or patronize fast-casual restaurants over traditional casual dining establishments.
Figuring out how to market to millennials is likely to be one mandate for Chili’s new CMO. More broadly, Felix’s reputation for reenergizing legacy brands was called out in the announcement.
"George has a track record of driving sales quickly and rebuilding big brands over time," said Kevin Hochman, president and CEO of Brinker in a press release.
In 2020, Felix joined Pizza Hut as CMO but left the brand for Tinder in 2021. His departure marked the second CMO departure in two years, reflecting the brand's ongoing growing pains as it attempted to keep up with changes accelerated by the pandemic. He resigned just as the brand launched its “Newstalgia” campaign, which updated some of Pizza Hut’s branding, such as turning pizza boxes into playable Pac-Man games via QR codes and virtual reality.
During his tenure at KFC, the brand won Marketing Dive’s Marketer of the Year award in 2017. That year, the brand launched a chicken sandwich into space and published a 96-page romance novella featuring a Fabio-inspired Colonel Sanders, the brand's mascot.
Felix’s appointment as CMO at Chili’s follows recent attempts by the chain at refreshing the customer experience, including by launching an e-commerce store and introducing robots that deliver food. Felix’s arrival can be seen as a next step in the chain’s efforts to boost its brand.
"Chili's is such an iconic brand that's not only culturally relevant, but also known for its irreverent approach to advertising and marketing," Felix said in a press release. "I'm excited to lean on my brand positioning and advertising experience to find new opportunities for building momentum and accelerating growth for this great brand."