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At Brinker, directors eat free

By Gary Jacobson

September 17, 2007 at 8:12am

Brinker International, the Dallas restaurant company with $4.3 billion in annual revenue, pays members of its board of directors well, more than $200,000 a year in cash and stock, according to the company’s proxy statement.

And it gives them a complimentary dining card for use in company restaurants, which currently number about 1,800 in 49 states, Washington, D.C., and two dozen foreign countries. Brinker’s outlets include Chili’s, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, On the Border and Maggiano’s Little Italy.

The dining card is a great perk for motivating directors to learn first hand about the company’s business and its products. Wonder how many of Countrywide Financial’s directors and their families hold some of the exotic mortgages that are now causing chaos in the credit markets? Or, how many Mattel directors and their families have toys with lead paint in their homes?

A few of Brinker’s directors did not make use of their dining card, as first reported by footnoted.org. Among them was Robert Gates, who left the board late last year when he became Secretary of Defense.

George Mrkonic, the retired president of Borders Group, and John Mims, co-founder of Cypress Ridge Partners, also did not use their cards.

The remaining outside directors did make use of their cards, some of them, apparently, liberally. In its proxy, the company listed only the tax gross up amount paid to each director, related to use of the dining card. That amount would be much less than the value of the meals received.

Ron Kirk, former mayor of Dallas and a partner in the law firm of
Vinson & Elkins, received a gross up of $1,022. Rosendo Parra, a
retired Dell executive, received $528. Erle Nye, chairman emeritus of TXU, the giant utility company being acquired by private equity firms, received $415. And James Oesterreicher, the retired chairman of J.C. Penney, received $250.

Keep in mind that the average meal (food and drinks) at Chili’s, Romano’s and On the Border generates less than $15.50 in revenue, according to Brinker’s 10-K. The average meal revenue at Maggianos is $25.80.

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