You can thank Norman Brinker for bringing us all those endless, all-you-can-eat salad bars. The iconic restaurateur, whose name is not one that is instantly familiar, passed away on Tuesday from complications of pneumonia while on vacation.
The 78-year old entrepreneur was a maverick in the restaurant industry, making casual dining, as we know it today, accessible to millions of Americans and giving consumers a choice between fast-food burger joints and high price gourmet establishments. Perhaps best known for starting the now defunct Steak and Ale and the Bennigan’s chains, he was also responsible for turning Chili’s into the popular dining place that we know today.
In the late 1960s, salads were pieces of lettuce, tomato and cucumber, served at your table. But with the establishment of Steak and Ale, he popularized the concept of an all-you-can-eat salad bar. The innovation was asking diners to get up from their seats and serve themselves from a salad buffet ” a real chancy move at the time. He also made sure the servers were cheerful and available, making sure they greeted you with their name .. “Hello, my name is James and I’ll be your server today”
Another of Brinker’s innovations was the idea of the “fern bar,”which was popularized with Bennigan’s, a moderately priced eatery that catered to young singles.
Brinker had been chairman of Brinker International, a Dallas-based restaurant group managing Chili’s Grill & Bar, On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, Maggiano’s Little Italy and Romano’s Macaroni Grill. He retired from the position nine years ago. At that time, the company had more than 1,000 restaurants. It now has 1,700 locations in 27 countries.
One of his most memorable and noteworthy accomplishments was the bankrolling of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which his third wife, Nancy, founded in memory of her late sister, who died of breast cancer. His generosity has helped millions of women deal with the challenges of the disease.
His creativity, innovation and giving spirit will be missed.
~ Susan Davis ~