DALLAS–Brinker International will focus its growth strategy outside the United States, with a goal of 300 restaurants by 2010, executives said at the company’s second quarter conference call.

The chain now has 172 restaurants in 24 countries and one US territory, said Douglas H. Brooks, chairman and CEO. During the last quarter, Brinker opened the first six of a planned 50 Chili’s Grill & Bar and Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurants in Mexico through a joint venture with CMR, SAB de CV. That joint venture could eventually open up to 100 units.

“We continue to strengthen our presence in growing markets overseas. The expanding middle class and faster-growing economies have made international expansion an ongoing strategic focus,” Brooks said.

Meanwhile, it will limit opening domestic company-owned units in favor of franchise expansion. The chain will open 75 restaurants in fiscal 2008, and between 40 and 45 new units in 2009, down from 70 to 80 originally projected. Plans for 2010 could be even slower.

“We anticipate we will continue at these lower levels until there is a significant improvement in consumer demand,” said Charles M. Sonsteby, executive vp and CFO. “We believe it’s best to focus on our existing operations rather than domestic company-owned growth.”

The company also is continuing its shift toward increasing the percentage of franchisee-owned units. The sale of 75 Chili’s units to a franchisee during the quarter helped Brinker achieve a ratio of 70% company-owned/30% franchisee by the end of calendar 2007, down from 80%/20%. Plans call for the franchisee portion to increase to 35% by the end of the fiscal year. Negotiations are continuing to sell Romano’s Macaroni Grill, now expected to place in the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

For the quarter, revenues from continuing operations for the 13-week period were $868.2 million, down 3.5% from the same period last year. Comp-restaurant sales declined 2.1%. Net income was $54.5 million, up from $44.2 million the previous year.

At quarter end, Brinker International owned, operated, or franchised 1,872 restaurants under the names Chili’s Grill & Bar, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina (167 units), and Maggiano’s Little Italy (41 units).

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