Casual-dining restaurants are good buying opportunities. Unlike their fast-casual stepsisters, casual food chains offer table service along with modest prices. Joints like Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ: BWLD ) and The Cheesecake Factory (NASDAQ: CAKE ) had excellent quarters. Meanwhile, Red Lobster and The Olive Garden, both in Darden Restaurants' (NYSE: DRI ) cornucopia, struggled. Let's take a gander at the investing menu.
Buffalo Wild Wings' tasty quarter
Buffalo Wild Wings has been serving up its namesake chicken wings since 1982, along with other zesty treats. The made-to-order menu offers spicy variety items topped with the chain's "signature sauces," as well as the wings.
Diners can also take a walk on the wild side with the restaurant's extensive multi-media system for watching their favorite sporting events, making it a casual restaurant and sports bar wrapped into one. There are currently more than 950 Buffalo Wild Wings locations across 49 states in the United States, as well as in Canada.
The casual chain recently reported that third-quarter revenue rose 27.9% year-over-year to $315.8 million as same-store sales growth cooked up 4.8% at company-owned restaurants, and 3.9% at franchised locations. Buffalo Wild Wings' earnings were also hot stuff, rising 65.4% from the same year-ago quarter to $0.95 per diluted share. Sally Smith, president and chief executive officer, anticipates a hot fourth quarter.
"With the excitement of football season, we are focused on driving sales. Same-store sales are about 5.3% at company-owned restaurants and 3% at franchised locations for the first four weeks of the fourth quarter compared to 3.8% and 5.6%, respectively, for the same period last year," said Smith.
Buffalo Wild Wings has bold plans to open another 1,700 restaurants over the next 10 years in the US, Mexico and Canada, making this a good buy for those with a long-term view.
The Cheesecake Factory is more than sweet stuff
The Cheesecake Factory considers itself to be an "upscale casual-dining" chain. The company operates 177 full-service casual-dining restaurants throughout the US and Puerto Rico.
Cheesecake Factory reported strong earnings results on Oct. 23 featuring total revenue of $469.7 million for the fiscal third quarter, up 3.5% compared to the same period in 2012. Adjusted net income was $28.1 million, or $0.52 per share compared to $0.49 last year -- an improvement of a bit more than 6%.
Moreover, same-store sales were up a modest 0.8% -- the 15th consecutive quarter of growth year-over-year. And this has "outpaced" the chain's competitors, according to CEO David Overton.
The real treat is the chain's ability to generate strong cash flow, which allows the company to pay dividends. It is also using the dough to repurchase shares to return earnings to investors, which makes the chain a tasty opportunity for long- term investors.
Darden Restaurants' cool summer
The summer was not so sweet for Darden Restaurants, as the company reported that same-store sales fell by 4% at Olive Garden and 5.2% at Red Lobster. While overall sales were up by a bit more than 6% year-over-year, earnings per share fell 37.6%. Moreover, Darden expects diluted earnings per share to decline 3%-5% for the year.
But the company attributes this to its efforts to tweak the Olive and Lobsters menus to make the prices easier for consumers to swallow. The share price has suffered a bit, and is now hovering at about $51, just below the 52-week high of $55 and change. But this is no reason to stiff the server, as the company has a growth plan with the Yard House acquisition.
Darden recently acquired Yard House for $585 million in a debt-free deal. Currently, there are only 39 Yard House restaurants in the US. But the company's acquisition looks to be a bid to keep pace with The Cheesecake Factory by opening more Yard House restaurants with menus that feature American Cuisine dolled up in artistic presentations.
The bottom line
Buffalo Wild Wings and The Cheesecake Factory have performed well in 2013, and will continue to do so provided consumer demand stays strong. And Darden's long term growth plan with the acquisition of the Yard House chain will help to bring earnings back. In sum, casual restaurants are good buying opportunities.
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