Casual Dining Guru Dies

Sad news for baby-back-rib loving Americans—Norman Brinker, head of Brinker International, has died of pneumonia at age 78. Brinker pioneered casual dining in America with affordable, friendly, dependable chains such as Chili's, the Washington Post reports. For Steak & Ale, his first major chain, Brinker invented the salad bar, and hit on later success with the singles "fern bar" concept at Bennigans. Over his storied career he presided over Burger King's flame-broiled campaign in the ‘80s and the Pillsbury Restaurant Group and served as a mentor to the CEOs of Outback Steakhouse, Houston's, and Chuck E Cheese. Brinker International, which Brinker retired from running in 2000, currently owns 1,700 restaurants in 27 countries, including chains such as Maggiano's Little Italy, Romano's Macaroni Grill, and On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina. In addition to his culinary career, Brinker was an athlete, competing in the 1952 Summer Olympics as an equestrian and in the 1954 pentathlon world championships.