News You Can Chew On

It's been a busy week for restaurant stocks, so I hope you're hungry. Let's dig into a few of the earnings reports and headlines.

Plenty at steak
These are tough times at Steak n Shake (NYSE: SNS  ) . Don't take it from me -- take it from the company.

"We are working with a sense of urgency to revive our operations," the company notes in Monday's fiscal third-quarter report. Is this a restaurant chain or an emergency room? The prognosis isn't too compelling either way.

This haven of steakburgers and handmade milkshakes is struggling. Revenue fell by 6% in its latest quarter, as a direct result of a 5.8% dip in comps, and the chain posted a steep loss during the period. Shouldn't Steak n Shake's value-priced grub be raking in the cash at this point? The leading counter-service chains are posting solid numbers, and Steak n Shake offers some of the lowest prices in this particular arena. Let's hope that this "urgency to revive" makes it long enough to attract a second opinion.

Hold the green peppers and the lettuce
Papa John's (Nasdaq: PZZA  ) is doing more with its dough than just baking it. The pizza-delivery chain is using some of its money to repurchase shares. The company announced a $50 million share repurchase plan, in addition to the larger $725 million buyback that it has nearly completed.

I guess $50 million share buybacks are the latest craze in the industry, since Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (Nasdaq: RRGB  ) also issued one last night, after posting respectable results tempered by a disappointing outlook.

R.B. = Roast beef? I get it now!
Arby's Beef 'n' Cheddar sandwich is turning 30 this year, but parent company Triarc (NYSE: TRY  ) won't rest on its laurels. The fast-food chain is going new-school, teaming up with Cellfire to offer mobile coupons at some of its restaurants.

Couponing is obviously a major part of quick-service marketing. Digital discounts offer the convenience of inventory-free distribution, but there's always the challenge of keeping the digital markdowns from spreading too widely via e-mail.

Bobbing for Evans
What do this week's earnings report from comfort-food champ Bob Evans (Nasdaq: BOBE  ) , and the new smaller-portions menu at its Mimi's Cafe concept have in common? If you answered "just enough," you win. Bob's net sales climbed 4% to $440.3 million, while earnings clocked in at $0.45 a share. That bottom-line showing beats last year's $0.38 a share, matching Wall Street's expectations.

Bob Evans suffered a 6.5% dip in comps at its slightly more upscale Mimi's Cafe chain, but the larger namesake concept's 2% comps increase offset the drop. Wow, a value-priced casual dining chain can still grow its sales! Maybe Steak n Shake should take notes, or at least swipe the BOB-B-Q baby back ribs recipe.

Si, Whopper
In overseas news, Burger King (NYSE: BKC  ) announced that it has now opened 1,000 fast-food joints in the Latin America and Caribbean region. The milestone opening was a franchised unit in Brazil.

Let's hope this kind of news will erase the images of the notorious video clip of an Ohio Burger King employee who took a bath in a BK kitchen utility sink. If not, hopefully next week's quarterly report from the world's second-largest burger chain will put that unsavory picture to rest.

Bowling for breakfast
The battle for the stomachs of morning commuters continues to escalate as Jack in the Box (NYSE: JBX  ) rolls out breakfast bowls. The Denver Breakfast Bowl features scrambled eggs, hash browns, ham, bell peppers, and cheese.

Is it just me, or does "Do you want some antacid with your breakfast bowl?" sound like a potential for upsell?

Go for the gold
Finally, I got into the spirit of the Olympic Games in Beijing by awarding the gold, silver, and bronze medals in the restaurant industry this week.

No Michael Phelps. No Chinese-gymnast age controversies. Just three publicly traded chains that are growing nicely in this challenging environment. I won't spoil the medalists for you -- go check out the competition yourself.

Check out this week's dessert specials:

Steak n Shake and Jack in the Box are Motley Fool Hidden Gems Pay Dirt picks. Jack in the Box is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is the rare foodie who embraces restaurant chains. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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