Bad Weather Is No Match for This Burger Joint

Source: Red Robin Gourmet Burgers

The phrase of the quarter it seems with many restaurants and retail stores is "bad weather did us in." Chains such as Chili's of Brinker International (NYSE: EAT  ) and McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) have been crying foul about the winter causing a sudden downturn in business. For Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (NASDAQ: RRGB  ) , however, it's an entirely different story, as the sun seems to shine brighter than ever on it.

Red Robin's mouth-watering results
On Feb. 14, Red Robin reported fiscal fourth-quarter results. Revenue inched up 0.5% to $241.9 million, despite having one less week in the fiscal quarter. On a comparable 12-week basis, revenue increased by 3.7%. Same-store sales jumped 3.2%. Adjusted net income climbed 8.8% to $0.64, again despite being one week shorter.

Chief executive Steve Carley credited the success with "new service and presentation, innovative new menu items, and targeted marketing efforts." He added, "Overall, we have made considerable progress in transforming our brand and improving our guest experience but remain mindful that there is still much to be done. 2014 will be a year of continued focus and execution across our engagement, efficiency, and expansion initiatives."

There was nothing about bad weather in the earnings release. Just talk of reported growth and continued expected growth. Red Robin continues to buy shares in the open market to return value to shareholders, repurchasing $2.5 million worth in the fourth quarter.

Red Robin is currently up to 495 restaurants, which isn't a large geographical footprint at less than 10 restaurants per state (even less if you include international). The company plans to add 20 additional restaurants for 2014, as it sees same-store sales continuing to climb in the low single-digit range.

Shaking off the snow
During the conference call, Carley admitted, "We're not immune to the industry headwinds in this intense competitive environment." Still, he believes Red Robin's success is only in the "early innings" and points out the growth in the fourth quarter came despite fewer shopping days, December's bad weather, and "weaker industry traffic."

CFO Stuart Brown also expects Red Robin to flourish despite "the consensus outlook calling for continued weakness in consumer spending and casual dining and the continued oversupply of restaurants."

The only concern Brown seems to have about the bad weather is the slight increase in operating costs due to heating bills at the restaurants. It's typical attention to detail of a CFO (which is great).


Source: Red Robin Gourmet Burgers

Some just can't shake off the coldBrown stated, "I think we are obviously affected, as everybody, as we try not to use weather as an excuse." He pointed out that even if there is some impact from bad weather, it typically is followed by a spike in sales anyway due to many people having "cabin fever" and wanting to get back out. Brown added, "Overall, we try not to talk much about weather."

Not everybody is taking the cold and storms in stride like Red Robin. Chili's of Brinker International and McDonald's both saw sudden, large dips in their same-store sales, both blaming it on the weather.

While Brinker International saw sales rise 2.3% and domestic same-store sales inch up 0.3% last quarter, December was in comparison a disaster. Brinker International reported a same-store sales plunge of 4.9% while guest traffic declined 6.8% for that month. The reason, according to Brinker International, was simply "more severe weather." Either that or people were ditching Chili's and heading over to Red Robin. Let's see if numbers turn back positive when the chill at Chili's thaws.

Foolish final thoughts
Meanwhile, McDonald's has been struggling with domestic same-store sales for months. The figures turned negative back in November, with a 0.8% decline, and only have gotten worse from there. McDonald's reported a 1.4% slide for the fourth quarter, implying an even worse December compared to November, then a 3.3% plunge for January. Chief executive Don Thompson blamed "broad based challenges including severe winter weather." Let's see if McDonald's gets a "cabin fever" boost in the months ahead.

Rain, snow, sleet, or shine, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers is growing steadily despite all of the industry challenges. Imagine how well it might do if and when the economic headwinds turn instead into tailwinds. At 22 times next year's expected earnings with around 20% earnings growth, Red Robin looks to be trading at a fair value.

However, as Warren Buffett points out, it's far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price. Red Robin is proving itself to be a wonderful company with great opportunity ahead. Fools should consider taking a closer look.

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