Free Chips and Salsa Spurs Jump in Chili's Rewards Sign-Ups

(Bloomberg) -- Americans love freebies, especially in the form of chips and salsa.

At least that’s the bet that Chili’s Grill & Bar is making with an overhaul to its rewards program, which now offers members free chips and salsa or a non-alcoholic drink with every visit. Early returns are positive, the Brinker International Inc.-owned chain says, with in-restaurant customer sign-ups tripling since the changes were introduced last month.

Chili’s could use a boost -- comparable sales dropped 1.6 percent in its most recent quarter domestically. Casual-dining restaurants that have been around for a while, like Chili’s, have struggled to draw the younger crowd, hurting business in a competitive environment. But the freebies can help change that, according to the company’s chief marketing and innovation officer Steve Provost.

“Younger guests are more apt to sign up,” Provost said in an interview. “We see it as a great way to create a bond with millennial guests.”

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