Is This Restaurant a Tasty Delight or a Scrambled Fright?

Bob Evans' (Nasdaq: BOBE  ) latest earnings call proves that even during a recession, people need to eat. On Nov. 19, the company reported strong quarterly statistics, despite the drag of a slow economy. However, while the restaurant chain is going strong this quarter, comparing its current performance to that of the competition can show whether Bob is blazing ahead of the pack, or falling behind it.

Bob vs. the competition
Everything appears to be on the upswing for Bob Evans this quarter. Its net sales are up to $410.9 million, a 1.4% increase from the same quarter last year, and its same-store sales growth has also risen 1% from this time last year. To try to maintain "share of stomach," the company is always researching product innovations. During fiscal 2012, it introduced 17 new retail food products, including pre-cooked sausages, sandwiches, and side dishes.

Bob may be doing well, but Brinker International (NYSE: EAT  ) of Chili's fame, dwarfs the company in almost every financial aspect. Brinker's annual sales are holding steady at around $2.8 billion. Meanwhile, Bob made only $1.6 billion in 2012 and was down 4% from 2010. In terms of net income, Brinker makes almost twice as much as Bob Evans, and has done so for the past few years. Both brands may be iconic in the restaurant industry, but for the time being, Bob can't quite outshine Chili's.

Still, things could always be worse. Brinker may beat Bob Evans, but the latter's financials kick the stuffing out of Denny's (Nasdaq: DENN  ) , whose revenue is down 11% from 2010, to a mere $538 million. Historically, Denny's net income has also trailed Bob Evans', but Denny's made a surprise uptick (thanks to a benefit from income taxes) of over 400% to $112 million in 2012, beating Bob that year. However, a Q3 net income of around $5 million, along with a P/E of 4.26, suggests that Denny's has returned to sluggishness, while Bob remains consistent.

In Bob we trust?
Bob Evans is far from the heights of Brinker International, but the company is taking great financial strides to try to get there. In 2012, the company spent $88 million on creating new locations and sprucing up existing restaurants. The expenditures made a dent in its cash flow, but judging by the improving stats of this earnings call, they are starting to pay off. Additionally, the company is enjoying a steady P/E of 15.14. Compared to an industry average of 19.18, Bob is by no means a lame duck, but it might still have room to grow.


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