A RARE Opportunity?

When RARE Hospitality (Nasdaq: RARE  ) asks you what you want for dinner, it usually means how you want your steak. The operator of the LongHorn Steakhouse, Bugaboo Creek Steak House, and Capital Grille chains produced results that would probably be best described as, um, medium-well.

Earnings inched higher, going from $0.42 a share during last year's March quarter to a $0.44 showing this time around as sales rose by 14%. Expansion fueled most of the top-line growth, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the concepts are hitting on all cylinders.

At RARE's flagship LongHorn eatery, comps rose for the 13th consecutive quarter, though this period's rather meager 1.8% uptick shouldn't lead anyone to believe that this streak will reach DiMaggio proportions. The performance at LongHorn pretty much sets the tone for RARE, since LongHorn accounts for all but 48 of the company's 274 restaurants.

It was feast or famine at RARE's other concepts. The high-end Capital Grille chophouse produced a 5.7% increase in comps, while the company's original casual steakhouse entry, Bugaboo Creek, suffered a 4.5% decline in same-unit sales.

Capital Grille has been a steady winner, though it's hardly a reason to buy into the company, given that it accounts for less than 17% of the firm's total revenue. You would have a purer play in upscale steakhouse Smith & Wollensky (Nasdaq: SWRG  ) , though that company has always struggled to turn a profit.

On the casual side, you have plenty of other options. Texas Roadhouse (Nasdaq: TXRH  ) recently went public, and you can still buy into the two companies that kicked off the casual-steakhouse investing trend: Outback Steakhouse (NYSE: OSI  ) and Lone Star Steakhouse (Nasdaq: STAR  ) .

Or why not RARE itself? It's kind of creepy how RARE, Outback, and Lone Star are all trading between 21 and 22 times earnings right now. RARE is looking to earn between $1.53 and $1.57 a share this year, and that prices the stock at a forward earnings multiple of 19. No, that isn't exactly dirt-cheap, especially when you have companies like Logan's Roadhouse operator CBRL Group (Nasdaq: CBRL  ) trading at less than 16 times this fiscal year's profit targets. Then again, you know the drill. You often have to pay up for a really good piece of steak.

Some other hearty reading:

  • Lone Star has proved worthy of its Texas-size appetite lately.
  • Texas Roadhouse, on the other hand, has been more of an El Paso.
  • Check out some real Rule Breakers at a much earlier stage in their defiance.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does enjoy the casual steakhouses. He owns shares in CBRL Group.The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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