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Dine Brands Global Inc (NYSE:DIN)
Q4 2020 Earnings Call
Mar 2, 2021, 12:00 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Hello, and welcome to the Fourth Quarter 2020 Dine Brands Global Earnings Conference Call. My name is Grace, and I will be your operator for today's call. [Operator Instructions]

I will now turn the call over to Ken Diptee, Executive Director of Investor Relations. Sir, you may begin.

Ken Diptee -- Executive Director of Investor Relations

Good morning and welcome to Dine Brands fourth quarter and fiscal 2020 conference call. I'm joined by John Peyton, CEO; Allison Hall, Interim CFO and Controller; Jay Johns, President of IHOP; and John Cywinski, President of Applebee's.

Before I turn the call over to John, please remember our Safe Harbor regarding forward-looking information. During the call, management may discuss information that is forward-looking and involves known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, which may cause the actual results to be different than those expressed or implied. Please evaluate the forward-looking information in the context of these factors, which are detailed in today's press release and 10-K filing.

The forward-looking statements are as of today and assumes no obligation to update or supplement these statements. We may also refer to certain non-GAAP financial measures, which are described in our press release and also available on Dine Brands' Investor Relations website.

With that, I'll turn the call over to John.

John Peyton -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Ken. Good morning, everyone, and thanks for joining us. I'll start by saying it's an honor for me to join Dine Brands. I believe in Dine Brands because I believe in restaurants. Restaurants are essential to strong communities and human connection and people appreciate that now more than ever before. I believe we're on the cusp of the restaurant renaissance. And as we enter what we expect to be the beginning of the end of the pandemic, all restaurants face the common challenge and that's the eating out in America has changed.

Those will win in the new era of restaurants are those who remained resilient and those who invested in new menu and service innovations and new technology during 2020. And that's the story of Dine Brands. We have solid fundamentals, two category-leading iconic brands and certainly the most talented team members and franchisees in the industry.

Let me pause and tell you a bit about my story. As a teen, I worked in my parent's restaurant. It was called the [Indecipherable] Philadelphia and I was certainly humbled and stunned by the almost 24/7 demands required at my parents'. After college, I went on to work as a consultant for PwC, I then was at Starwood Hotels and most recently at Realogy. I joined Dine because I believe in the power and lure of strong brands.

20 years ago, a mentor of mine who was a marketing wizard, taught me that brands win when they're different, better and special. And our brands are truly different, better and special. IHOP, for example, is a pancake obsessed breakfast innovator that makes the most important meal of the day, also the most fun. And Applebee's embodies what it means to be all American and locally relevant. We call that Eatin' Good in the Neighborhood. In other words, Applebee's and IHOP are iconic brands that connect in an emotional way with our guests. And that's important because we know restaurants are essential to the fabric of community and human connections.

I also like our business model. We're 98% franchise and asset light. We are a significant generator of cash. Our franchise model helps buffer us from fluctuations in the market and our model generally requires less significant investments of capital and it allows those who are best operating restaurants or franchisee owners to do so with our support.

My 20-plus years at Starwood and Realogy taught me that successful franchising requires true partnership and that we work hard every day to ensure that our independent franchisees build valuable businesses that create generational wealth. So over the last two months, I've been on the move. I've conducted a deep dive across the Company, learning more and more about our brands and Dine's dynamic corporate culture. So far, I've spoken with 40 franchisees in the U.S. and around the world and they represent 50% of the Applebee's system and more than a third of our IHOP restaurants. I've also connected with our suppliers and our vendors and our team members. I visited our restaurants, and our test kitchens. And I can report that our network is aligned and is desired to grow and to invest and to win.

Now, despite the impact of the pandemic, Dine's fundamentals remain solid. You may recall that in March of 2020, S&P placed the Company's whole business securitization notes on credit watch-negative as it did with two other whole business securitizations in our industry at that time. Six months later, S&P removed our notes in credit watch and reaffirmed our BBB rating. Dine was the only issuer of the series and not have its notes downgraded or remain on credit watch due to the pandemic. S&P's decision last fall was a greatest achievement for Dine and illustrates that our fundamentals remain strong. And because we emerged in 2020 on sound financial footing, we plan to repay in full the $220 million drawn from our revolver last March. We expect to complete the repayment this month, resulting in interest expense savings of approximately $5 million.

In addition to strong fundamentals, we have passionate franchisees who remain in very good standing. Our collection rate for royalty and marketing fees stands at approximately 99% and the fees we deferred during Q2 of last year are being paid back according to schedule. And in addition to our fabulous franchisees, importantly, both brands are led by veteran executive team with exceptional experience and industry knowledge. You'll hear from Jay and John shortly and it's their expertise and collective wisdom that truly paid off via their extraordinary stewardship of the brands in our franchisees throughout the challenge of 2020.

So looking ahead, we're anticipating rebound in the second half of the year, driven primarily by increases in vaccination rates. Overall weekly sales trends for both brands have also improved since the week ending January 3 of 2021, Applebee's improving by approximately 8 percentage points and IHOP posted gains of about 6 points. We're also encouraged by our off-premise business. Both brands maintained off-premise sales of approximately one-third of total sales during the fourth quarter and we view off-premise dining as a new consumer behavior that will live beyond the pandemic.

We're continuing to invest in technology to support our growing off-premise business and we're certainly optimistic about the outlook for Applebee's and IHOP because during times of crisis, guests just like me, and just like you look to brands we trust and if restaurant guests return to indoor dining, guests will trust that our franchisees and restaurant team and IHOP and Applebee's are committed to their health and safety. So taken collectively, these fundamentals uniquely position Dine Brands to endure the challenges brought on by the pandemic and position us for long-term sustainable growth.

Our team is focused on three objectives over the next 12 months to 24 months. The first is to navigate what we believe is the beginning of the end of the crisis. The second is to win the recovery and win the new normal that follows. And the third is to evaluate long-term growth vehicles. So allow me to share a bit of my thinking about each of those.

First is to navigate the beginning of the end of the crisis. Of course, we'll continue to monitor and protect cash and we will also focus on continuous improvement in operational health and safety standards in our restaurants. We're preparing compelling marketing campaigns and new products to drive the recovery growth and we are working intensely to ensure the financial health of our franchisees.

Second, we'll win the recovery and win the new normal by leveraging our recent investments in business and consumer insights, CRM and digital to reactivate our guests via one-to-one and highly targeted marketing and we'll realign our menu to reflect learnings in the past 12 months and we'll reset the channel mix to reflect those earnings as well.

And third, we'll continue to evaluate long-term growth vehicles both traditional and non-traditional development, which includes everything from new prototypes for both brands, virtual brands and ghost kitchens, both of which we have the efforts under way and we'll take a look at international expansion opportunities in key markets and possibly explore incorporating a third brand at the right time.

So as I wrap up, I want to emphasize the Dine views the crisis as both a threat and an opportunity. And while we knew it was important to play defense to protect our liquidity and our flexibility, we also played offense so that we would emerge from the crisis in a position to serve more guests both inside and outside of our restaurants. Because we played offence in 2020, we continue to invest in new digital and CRM products that are coming online early this summer as well as innovative menu items like IHOPPY Hour and Burritos & Bowls at IHOP and Applebee's new virtual brand, Cosmic Wings. And while we were investing in new technology and menu offerings, our franchisees invested in supporting the local communities by feeding and sheltering frontline workers and those in need. And so if all of these investments combine, that will pay off as our guests return to indoor dining.

So with that, I'll turn the call over to Allison to provide an overview of our financial results.

Allison Hall -- Interim Chief Financial Officer and Vice President, Corporate Controller

Thank you, John. Good morning, everyone. I'll begin with a business update, then review our results for the fourth quarter and the full year. Lastly, I'll discuss our financial performance guidance for 2021.

During a very challenging year, we took steps to maintain our financial flexibility, including drawing down $220 million in March 2020 from our revolving credit facility, all of which remain outstanding as of December 31. As John just mentioned, we plan to repay the $220 million during the month of March. Due to this proactive measure, we continue to have very strong liquidity. We ended 2020 with total cash and cash equivalents of $456 million, which includes restricted cash of $72.7 million. Excluding the $220 million drawn from our revolver, cash on the balance sheet was $64 million higher at the end of 2020 compared to year-end 2019. The increase was primarily due to the temporary suspension of both our quarterly cash dividends and our share repurchase program.

These steps were taken in response to COVID-19 pandemic and the need to maintain financial flexibility. Additionally, we maintain tight G&A management during the year of austerity and we're able to lower compensation costs following the difficult decision to furlough approximately one-third of our corporate staff for several months during 2020.

Turning to our financial results, I'll begin with the notable changes on our income statement. For the fourth quarter, adjusted EPS of $0.39 compared to $1.78 for the same quarter of 2019. For 2020, adjusted EPS was $1.79 compared to $6.95 in 2019. The year-over-year decrease was due to a significant decline in customer traffic resulting from governmental capacity restrictions on dining room operations. This led to declines in domestic comp sales at both brands and a decrease in the number of Applebee's and IHOP effective restaurants and lower gross profit. The impact of the pandemic on franchise operations resulted in an increase in bad debt. For 2020, our bad debt was approximately $12.8 million as compared to virtually no bad debt for 2019.

Switching gears to G&A. Given our asset-light business model, G&A remains an important lever for us. In 2020, it constituted 30% of our total revenues excluding advertising revenues. G&A for the fourth quarter of 2020 improved to $39.4 million from $41.7 million for the same quarter last year. The decline was primarily due to lower travel and compensation costs. G&A for the fourth quarter was lower than our guidance of approximately $45 million, primarily due to our ability to tighten G&A controls in response to the resurgence of coronavirus cases. G&A for 2020 was $144.8 million, including $4.3 million related to the company restaurants segment. This compares to $162.8 million in 2019. The decline was primarily due to G&A tighter management around that, which included a decrease in compensation and travel-related costs.

Now turning to the cash flow statement. Cash from operations for 2020 was $96.5 million compared to $155.2 million in 2019. The change was primarily due to a decrease in total revenue, resulting from the decline in guest traffic at our restaurants as previously discussed. Our highly franchised model continued to generate strong adjusted free cash flow of $106.6 million in 2020 compared to $148.8 million in the prior year. The decline was primarily due to the decrease in cash from operations just discuss, primarily offset by lower capex compared to 2019. We believe that our cash on hand, cash from operations and the steps we've taken to mitigate the effects of the pandemic will allow us to continue to remain with strong liquidity throughout the year as our business continues to improve.

Now regarding capital allocation, we continue to reevaluate our capital allocation strategy as industry conditions continue to improve and normal restaurant operations resume. As previously discussed, we plan to repay the $220 million drawn last March. Additionally, we will review reinstating our quarterly cash dividends and resumption of our share repurchase program. We will also reevaluate investments in our existing brands to enable both -- platforms for both organic and non-organic growth.

Now for an update on our franchisee assistance program. Dine Brands provide approximately $55.7 million in royalty, advertising fees and rent payment deferrals to our franchisees and continue to provide assistance on a case-by-case basis. In total, we provided approximately $61 million deferrals to 223 franchisees across both brands, of which 61 have repaid their deferred balances in full. Overall, a total of approximately $32 million of the original subsequent deferrals have been repaid and repayments are on track.

Regarding adjusted EBITDA, our consolidated adjusted EBITDA for 2020 was $158.7 million compared to $273.5 million for 2019. The decrease was primarily due to a significant decline in customer traffic resulting from a governmental mandated dine-in capacity restrictions discussed earlier. This led to decreases in both revenues and gross profit in 2020 compared to 2019. Because of our asset-light model and low capex requirements, we continue to have very high quality adjusted EBITDA as capex represented only 7% of 2020 adjusted EBITDA.

Lastly, I will review our financial performance guidance for fiscal 2021, which reflects the projected impact over the pandemic on our guidance as of today. Due to ongoing uncertainty created by COVID-19, we clearly cannot provide a complete business outlook for the year. As our business conditions continue to improve and dining capacity restrictions are lowered, we will evaluate providing additional performance guidance as necessary.

We're not offering guidance around development comp sales because of the uncertainty of the recovery this year. However, I can tell you, G&A is expected to range between approximately $160 million and $170 million including non-cash stock-based compensation expense and depreciation of approximately $45 million. Please note that this range includes approximately $5 million of G&A related to the company restaurants segment and capital expenditures are expected to be approximately $14 million inclusive of approximately $5 million related to the company restaurants segment.

To wrap up, Dine Brands has significant cash on the balance sheet and has maintained strong financial flexibility despite the adverse conditions in 2020. Comp sales of both brands have improved significantly since the onset of the pandemic. Although there is a lot of work that's still ahead of us, we believe accomplishments this year have laid a solid foundation for growth.

With that, I'll now turn the call over to John Cywinski.

John C. Cywinski -- President, Applebee's

Thanks, Allison, and good morning and good afternoon, everyone. I'm very proud of what this Applebee's team accomplished in 2020 and remain extremely optimistic about our business prospects here in '21. In partnership with our franchisees, we fundamentally altered our business model to adapt to this new environment. Applebee's comp sales progressed from minus 49.4% in Q2 to minus 13.3% in Q3 to minus 1.9% in the month of October when we last spoke.

Almost immediately thereafter, the country experienced a rather abrupt resurgence of COVID directly impacting our Q4 trajectory. As a result, November comp sales were minus 15% while December came in at minus 30.1%. Now the good news is that business is now improving as comp sales for January and the first three weeks of February combined were minus 18.1%, rolling over a very strong 3.3% increase from the same timeframe last year.

Additionally, given COVID-related restrictions, we scaled back our media spending in December, January and February. It's also important to note that not all casual dining brands are impacted equally by these restrictions given each brand's geographic distribution. Applebee's has a disproportionately heavy penetration of its restaurants in the Northeast and Midwest, two geographies, obviously hardest hit by dining restrictions. While reflected in these recent results, this will ultimately and disproportionately benefit us as restrictions are eased over the coming months.

For context, at the end of December, 412 of our dining rooms were closed due to government imposed mandates. Thankfully, the landscape has changed dramatically over the past month and virtually all of our 16,000 dining rooms are now open for business. In many respects, our current operating environment feels very similar to late summer of last year if you recall when we saw Applebee's sales momentum accelerate as restrictions were eased, including our first positive sales week at the end of September. And barring unforeseen circumstances, I anticipate a similar dynamic to unfold very soon here in '21.

Now for the month of February, Applebee's sales mix consisted of 63% dine-in, 22% Carside To Go, and 15% delivery. On the off-premise front, we continue to enhance Carside To Go with the upcoming introduction of a third-party app called FlyBuy that notifies restaurant teams through geofencing the moment our guest arrives on the lot. Also, our franchise partner in Arkansas recently opened Applebee's first drive- thru window. In addition to being very well received by team members and guests, this dedicated drive-thru lane eliminates weather challenges, improves throughput and importantly extends our late night to-go operating hours.

From a delivery perspective, our tamper-evident packaging is now fully deployed throughout the brand as another visible point of guest reassurance. Without question, our off-premise investments over the past year have broadened Applebee's reach and relevance across this important convenience-driven occasion.

Now with respect to Applebee's on-premise business. I anticipate our 63% sales mix to naturally elevate this year, as indoor dining gradually returns. And I firmly believe dining room service will be an unmistakable core strength for Applebee's, as guests look for that long overdue escape from home, where they can once again connect with one another over a good meal and perhaps a drink. Most importantly, these guests will naturally gravitate to brands that have earned their trust and loyalty throughout the pandemic. On this front, we're confident Applebee's is exceptionally well positioned. This optimism is supported by our very strong brand affinity and visit intent metrics, which have proven to be reliable leading indicators of brand performance. And as the year progresses, we'll continue to deploy guest-facing digital technology such as our pay-and-go initiative designed to provide easy mobile payment options without the need for a server.

Now, I'd like to take a moment to discuss our virtual brand evolution. As you may know, we just launched Cosmic Wings nationally on February 17, introducing a fully differentiated virtual brand, targeting a younger audience around the wings meal occasion. At the moment, Cosmic Wings remains an online delivery-only concept available via Uber Eats and fulfilled through approximately 1,250 Applebee's kitchens. In addition to craveable wings, tenders, waffle fries and onion rings, the team has developed a proprietary menu of Cheetos original wings, Cheetos Flamin' Hot wings as well as Cheetos cheese bites. This innovation work is exclusive to Applebee's and the culmination of our ongoing partnership between our culinary and marketing teams, franchisees, PepsiCo and Frito-Lay. While it's far too early to draw any conclusions, Cosmic Wings averaged $510 of incremental sales per restaurant last week in its first full week of operation, showing a steady build from day to day. We're very pleased with these initial results, and we'll certainly be in a better position to quantify the ultimate financial impact of Cosmic Wings on our next call.

We've also been active in piloting our first ghost kitchens in partnership with our franchisees, with two in Philadelphia, one in Los Angeles and another soon to open in Miami. To clarify, these are low capital investment, small footprint kitchens without a street front presence designed to satisfy online delivery demand for Applebee's, where we currently don't have restaurant penetration. The business model here appears attractive in the right geographies, where a brick-and-mortar presence may not be feasible.

Now, as I reflect upon this past year, I know our guests genuinely trust Applebee's perhaps now more than ever. Whether it's in their family rooms or in our dining rooms, there is no more relevant brand positioning for this environment than Eatin' Good in the Neighborhood as John referenced. And thanks to the resilience and fortitude of our franchise partners, the Applebee's ad fund is in great shape, allowing us to reestablish our national media presence as we engage America with compelling messaging.

To this point, last week, we launched our latest national event, 5 Boneless Wings for $1 with the purchase of any burger, which is resonating extraordinarily well. In fact, last week, Applebee's achieved our single highest sales volume week since the pandemic outbreak in mid-March of last year, that's 50 weeks ago. It's also worth noting that we are strategically and tactically aligned with our franchisees around our full-year marketing and innovation plan along with contingencies, given the obvious need for agility in this environment.

In closing, I believe Applebee's is near an inflection point, and that America's pent-up demand for dining out is indeed very real. We saw this trajectory last year up until the resurgence of the virus, and I'm confident we'll see it again this year very soon. And when this does occur, our franchise partners are very well positioned to not only return to sustained growth, but to thrive in a post-pandemic environment as they unlock the full potential of the Applebee's brand.

With that, I'll turn it to Jay.

Jay D. Johns -- President, IHOP

Thank you, John. Excuse me. Good morning, everyone. We are very optimistic about the road ahead for IHOP for several reasons. First, our quarterly comp sales improved meaningfully from a decline of 59.1% for the second quarter to a decline of 30.1% for the fourth quarter, reflecting a net increase of 29 percentage points since the pandemic began. Second, the brand is well positioned to benefit from pent-up demand when restrictions on the dining room capacity are eased and we have a strategy in place to capture it. Lastly, our development pipeline remains strong and new opportunities are being pursued.

As we closed out the fourth quarter, IHOP's comp sales declined 30.1%, which is on par with the family dining category. Our performance, especially the final six weeks, was adversely impacted by the resurgence in coronavirus cases. We were particularly impacted in California and Texas, which collectively comprised approximately 25% of our domestic restaurants. Our results for January 2021 improved to minus 26.8%, representing a gain of 10 percentage points from December. February comp sales through week ending February 21 were down 27.6%. For the same period, our sales mix consisted of 66% dine-in, 16.9% to-go and 17.1% delivery.

As we continue to navigate the ever-changing environment, we have four strategies to help the brand drive growth. Number 1, focusing on our PM daypart; Number 2, value; Number 3, maintaining our gains in off-premise sales; and Number 4, development growth. To address our first and second strategies of the PM daypart and value, we launched IHOPPY Hour on September 28, which offers our guests a wide array of value options during the afternoon and evening hours or later depending on the location. We believe this new value platform will not only play an important part of the strengthening and expanding our PM business, but also drive off-premise sales in locations where it's available.

IHOPPY Hour is driving incremental sales in the mid to high teens and approximately 20% incremental traffic compared to the rest of the day. This equates to a low- to mid-single-digit lift in both sales and traffic for the whole week. IHOPPY Hour is consistently four times more effective at driving traffic than any window we've had during that time. Our third strategy is growing our strong off-premise business. As consumer sentiment is shifting and off-premise is becoming more accepted around the country, our mix has remained strong. For the fourth quarter, off-premise was 33.3% of total sales, compared to 32.4% for the third quarter. To provide more color, to-go accounted for approximately 17% of sales mix and delivery accounted for approximately 16%. Off-premise comp sales for the fourth quarter grew by 130%, driven primarily by traffic. We believe that we can retain a significant amount of this growth even as dining room capacity restrictions are eased over time. Conducive to this is our -- is the high portability of IHOP's menu and our proprietary off-premise packaging, which keeps our food warm approximately 40 minutes after leaving the restaurant.

Additionally, we implemented curbside to-go quickly at the onset of the pandemic and continue investments in our IHOP and Go platform. IHOP's latest menu innovation is our all-new signature, Burritos & Bowls, which is introduced this past January. The six new Burritos & Bowls were designed with creative flavor combinations and easy portability in mind for guests to enjoy wherever they please and appeal to guests across all dayparts. The results since the launch are very encouraging, with Burritos & Bowls capturing approximately 8% of check at order incidents based on our soft launch without a full media and marketing campaign.

Switching gears to our fourth strategy, development. As we look at growth heading into 2021 and beyond, we will grow our IHOP brand with four different platforms. First, traditional development, of which we have a stable pipeline as a result of franchisee obligations that were deferred as part of our assistance during the pandemic. Second, non-traditional development, which is led by our largest agreement in our 62-year history, with TravelCenters of America for 94 restaurants over five years. Third, the resumption of work on our Flipped by IHOP concept, which we expect to open our first location this year.

And fourth and finally, we've developed a new small prototype that we intend to test this year. We expect it to provide new opportunities for franchisee growth with a higher return on investment, allowing us to go into areas we might not have been able to penetrate previously. For 2021, we expect to continue to reinvigorate our growth that was hindered by the pandemic.

Now, for an update on our domestic restaurants open for business. As of December 31, 1,174 restaurants or 70% of our domestic system was open for in-restaurant dining with restrictions. This compares to 1,425 restaurants or 85% as of September 30. The decline in locations open for in-restaurant service was primarily due to the spike in coronavirus cases discussed earlier.

Turning to the unit guidance for restaurant closures we provided in October. As a reminder, given the impact of the pandemic on individual restaurant level economics, we evaluated only greatly underperforming restaurants that we determine had a greater chance of not being viable coming out of the pandemic. These restaurants were generally some of the lowest performing units in the system, based on sales and franchisee profitability. This program concluded with 41 closures over the last six months, which is well below our initial projection of up to 100 restaurants. We remain confident that we'll eventually replace these severely underperforming locations and grow our footprint with better performing restaurants that had volumes closer to our pre-COVID AUV of approximately $1.9 million.

To close, we're executing against our four strategies to drive our growth which includes PM daypart expansion, value, maintaining our gains and off-premise sales and development growth. We've done the heavy lifting to position the brand for long-term success and build an insurmountable lead in family dining. I'm pleased with what our franchisees and team members have accomplished during a very challenging year and I'm very optimistic about the road ahead.

With that, I'll now turn the call back over to John Peyton for his closing comments. John?

John Peyton -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Jay. We have a tremendous team and I want to thank Allison and John and Jay. It's truly because of their leadership, particularly during the pandemic, that Dine and its brands are poised to enjoy significant upside potential in 2021 and beyond. Understandingly through meaningful change in performance trajectory will not happen immediately, but I am confident in our ability to restore sustainable same restaurant sales momentum in the second half of 2021 as more people are vaccinated and guests [Indecipherable] dine out return to restaurants. I have absolute faith in our franchisees and our talented team members will lead us into a new restaurant renaissance. Our strong fundamentals remain intact. We're positioning Dine for long-term growth and continuing to evolve as a guest-centric data-driven organization.

And so with that, we're pleased to take your questions. Thanks.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. [Operator Instructions] Your first question comes from the line of Jake Bartlett from Truist Securities. Your line is open.

Jake Bartlett -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Great, thanks for taking the question. My first is really on the regional performance and I understand there's a lot going on with weather and restrictions being tightened, but could you give us a sense of how stores have performed in the markets that have had the least restrictions and I'm thinking of markets like Florida, in terms of how their sales, how the indoor dining has been recovering and then what's been happening with the off-premise mix in markets like that?

John C. Cywinski -- President, Applebee's

Jake, this is John Cywinski. It's a good question, I won't quantify what we see, but suffice it to say those geographies with very few restrictions performed well. You see a not surprisingly, a larger percentage mix than the national average for dine-in and you may in fact see the inverse of what we saw in our most restricted geographies where two-thirds of our business was off-premise and a third on-premise. In those least restricted geographies, we see the inverse of that and we like the revenue results that we see and we're anxious to get the full national brand back to that point. We have significant variability as you know, across the country geographically and some of those geographies that you referenced are benchmark geographies for us. They paint a picture as to what's possible and it's very favorable.

Jay D. Johns -- President, IHOP

Hey, Jake. This is Jay Johns at IHOP. I would say they are the most everything that John said, the only other thing that I might add is that you asked about the To Go business and how that holds up as well. And I think that there is an absolute direct correlation between opening up and not having restrictions and the performance of those restaurants. It's logical, it's factual, but I do think that To Go business has held up really well even as restaurants have opened up. We're maintaining a lot of that To Go business -- most of that To Go business as we move forward. So, clearly one of the keys for us is just -- as these areas open up, we're going to do a better job

Jake Bartlett -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Great. That's really helpful. A question, John, on the Applebee's. You made the comment that last week's average weekly sales were the strongest since the COVID crisis began. Is that to imply that same-store sales were actually were positive for Applebee's last week.

John C. Cywinski -- President, Applebee's

Jake, I won't -- again, I'll resist quantifying that. But I'll make two points. Number one, the last week data that I referenced is not in the data that was disclosed in our release, which is only through the first three weeks of February. Suffice it to say, it was a significant trajectory shift and a very favorable fashion from what we saw earlier in February. Makes sense?

Jake Bartlett -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

That does. And then my last question here. Really, on the closures at IHOP, I just wanted to clarify, when you mentioned the 100 stores that were possible that you were looking at, was that just a comment on the domestic side. I know there's a fair amount of international closures this quarter, but less than I expected on the domestic side, which is great, but one, just to clarify that.

And then two, just to clarify that the closures on the kind of the majority of the closures you think are -- and I think you used the word concluded in terms of kind of assessing those stores. So, should we expect elevated closures bleeding into 2021 or has a system essentially kind of been cleaned up already and now we're kind of set for some actual net growth?

Jay D. Johns -- President, IHOP

Well, I think to begin with, your question about what was the 100 referring to, that was referring to potentially domestically up to 100. And what I mean by that program -- that was a special program that we had done this research on these restaurants and work with franchisees on those particular locations and that program has come to a close. Now, as a regular course of business, there is always going to be other closures, etc., but as far as exit of [Phonetic] program, that's over at 41.

Jake Bartlett -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Okay. And is that program involving kind of lifting any penalties for closing with a -- sort of a promotion of trying to clean up the system?

Jay D. Johns -- President, IHOP

Well, obviously we work with the franchisees to -- together on this to -- in a way to help their position for the rest of their portfolios in many cases. So, we work directly with the franchisees on that and on how we work those out of the system, but like I said, that program was a unique thing that we put together. I'm not going to share specific details on what fees were etc., but that program is over. We're back to kind of running the business with our normal review of any kind of request franchisees have at this point.

Jake Bartlett -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Great. I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Jay D. Johns -- President, IHOP

Thanks.

Operator

Thank you. And your next question comes from the line of Nick Setyan from Wedbush Securities. Your line is open.

Nick Setyan -- Wedbush Securities -- Analyst

Hi, thank you. Is the marketing now back and then also the -- on the virtual brands, is there like a target weekly sales number internally that you guys or at least just directionally you guys are willing to share, especially since there is a peer benchmark out there?

John C. Cywinski -- President, Applebee's

Yeah, hey, Nick. This is John Cywinski. On the marketing front, we love our position. We'll be -- as you look at the year, we're a bit light in Q1, quite candidly. As I mentioned, we did pull back on media spending in January and February which means Q2, Q3 and Q4 are going to look pretty favorable when you assess the full year. Virtual brand, your question on, is there a threshold, in any new investment and keep in mind this is very capital-light, it's a fairly easy investment. Our operators execute well. We do expect a minimum threshold of incremental sales performance. You could call that directionally as a percentage point, but we believe there's significant upside beyond that, but it's just too early, Nick, to begin to frame that. We only have 10 plus days in market and what I will tell you is we see steady improvement sequentially from one day to the next.

Nick Setyan -- Wedbush Securities -- Analyst

Got it. And then a question on margins. The Applebee's gross margin, I think it's 102.6% for the quarter, is that just a reflection of the recovery of some of the deferrals? And then on the IHOP, 67.3%, any kind of an outlook there sort of for 2021, at least directionally and what's really going on there with the gross margin at IHOP?

Allison Hall -- Interim Chief Financial Officer and Vice President, Corporate Controller

So, this is Allison. The gross profit margin on Applebee's, you will see there is a increase in bad debt year-over-year, but we're not giving any guidance related to 2020 other than G&A -- sorry, 2021 other than G&A and capex.

Nick Setyan -- Wedbush Securities -- Analyst

Okay, thank you very much.

Operator

Thank you. Next up we have a question from Brian Vaccaro from Raymond James. Your line is open.

Brian Vaccaro -- Raymond James -- Analyst

Hi. Thank you and good afternoon. I had a couple of questions on the quarter-to-date trends you mentioned for each brand and I appreciate the comments on average weekly sales and the improvement you're seeing there. I think you said Applebee's up 8 percentage points, IHOP up 6 percentage points, but I wasn't sure if that's compared to kind of the reported AWS in the fourth quarter or were you comparing that to December. So, could you -- just so we're on the same page, could you disclose kind of average weekly sales for each brand in that quarter-to-date period.

Jay D. Johns -- President, IHOP

This is Jay and IHOP. Are you talking about in the fourth quarter? You're talking about what we...

Brian Vaccaro -- Raymond James -- Analyst

No. In the quarter-to-date period. So you said you've improved 6%, but what does that mean? Is that versus December, is that versus the around 27% [Phonetic] you did in the fourth quarter. Just trying to get sort of a current average weekly sales check basically for both brands.

Jay D. Johns -- President, IHOP

Well, for IHOP, we have actually I think my comment was -- we had improved 10 percentage points from December into January. So clearly, when things were really shut down over the last six weeks of Q4, we were struggling. We had to come back nicely in January, February. And if you look at the trends on our sales, going all the way back to last year, we were making great progress and the trends were going great until those last six weeks of the year where we took a little bit of a dive. And then, we're coming back slowly out of that and the good correlation that I see is directly related to the closures. As cities are starting to open up now, I'm seeing that that's going to trend in the right direction, but I don't want to give any real specific numbers on that in quarter right now.

John C. Cywinski -- President, Applebee's

Hey, Brian, this is John C. On the Applebee's front, as I've referenced, we are down 30%, 30.1% I believe for December. And then about 12 percentage point favorable move, down 18% in the first seven weeks of the quarter, very similar January and the early part of February. Keep in mind some pretty meaningful weather impact in a couple of those February weeks and then, we are just now, as I referenced, beginning to reengage with meaningful national marketing, which we believe has -- will have significant impact.

John Peyton -- Chief Executive Officer

Hey, Brian. It's John Peyton. Just to make sure I understood the question and we're answering it accurately. So for those first seven weeks of January and February, we're comparing number one to same week prior year. And then each of the weeks in January and February it's improving relative to the last. Did that make sense?

Brian Vaccaro -- Raymond James -- Analyst

Yeah. Yeah, no, that's helpful. I appreciate that. And also, I just wanted to ask in terms of given how important having dining rooms open is to the overall sales, and I appreciate, I think it was 80% of Applebee's and 70% at the end of December, but what does that look like today in terms of the number of units? I guess you said 99% at Applebee's, but what does that look like on IHOP today, percent dining rooms that are open?

Jay D. Johns -- President, IHOP

We've only got about 33 restaurants and they are not open for some form of business right now. And we've got about 200 that may still be doing mostly To Go or patios only right now. We've got a heavy presence in California, obviously. So, there is a lot of our restaurants that still are impacted.

John C. Cywinski -- President, Applebee's

And Brian, on the Applebee's front, we've got about 10 dining rooms currently closed, half of those in California, half in Oregon, expecting to be open very soon, which is great news.

Brian Vaccaro -- Raymond James -- Analyst

Yeah, that's great. That's great. And I appreciate you mentioned in -- shifting gears a little bit to the development side, I appreciate the update on the IHOP side. I guess assuming no major setbacks in the broader COVID recovery narrative, will you expect to return to net unit growth at IHOP in '21 or perhaps that could take into '22 and then what's a reasonable expectation on closures at Applebee's this year.

Jay D. Johns -- President, IHOP

Yeah, on the IHOP side -- this is Jay, again. On the IHOP side, we're just not giving any guidance yet on exactly how this is going to play out. We clearly have franchisees that are interested in developing, but they are still in the middle of COVID right now. They're still in a -- so, the rate at which that comes back, we're just going to have to wait and see how that plays out.

John C. Cywinski -- President, Applebee's

And Brian on your question regarding Applebee's, we certainly have it forecasted. It's difficult in this environment. Other than to say, as John referenced, franchisee collections on royalty and advertising are superior and we're very optimistic about this 1,600 unit portfolio. As you know, we did -- we've cleaned up much of this, kind of the non-viable assets over time over the last three years to four years, but will resist framing any expectation or number at this point in time.

Brian Vaccaro -- Raymond James -- Analyst

All right, fair enough. And then just last one from me, I wanted to ask on Cosmic Wings. Could you highlight some of the key differences on Cosmic Wings versus Neighborhood Wings or perhaps comment on your approach to marketing the concept through other differences that are worth mentioning there. And sorry if I missed it, but is there an expected timeline on when it might be offered from all 1,600 domestic locations?

John C. Cywinski -- President, Applebee's

Brian, the -- I'm glad we piloted Neighborhood wings last year. As you know we did so in several hundred restaurants. What we learned was very clear. The brand itself, the virtual brand needs to be differentiated and separated in some respects in terms of positioning from Applebee's. The menu itself needs to be proprietary and perhaps buzzworthy. Our teams need to be able to execute that brand well and the naming was important. We -- along with the target, we had a very specific demographic here, a bit more useful, a bit of a male SKU, Cheetos lovers, delivery lovers, wings lovers and given that demographic profile, the naming and the positioning felt quite naturally to us, but you'll notice we did not incorporate the word or the name Applebee's in that. So Cosmic Wings, we validated that with consumers with that demo in particular. It resonated exceptionally well. And your question on timeframe again, Brian, what was that question?

Brian Vaccaro -- Raymond James -- Analyst

Yeah, just thinking -- I think you said Cosmic Wings has currently offered from about -- I think it was 250 Applebee's units. I'm just wondering when it will be -- if and when it will be available across the system, domestically?

John C. Cywinski -- President, Applebee's

I would expect -- so, 1,250 is with our partnership with Uber Eats and where they have a strong presence, obviously, we will have a strong presence. Could this brand be expanded in terms of distribution channels? Yes. And I'll our resist how that may unfold, but you can draw your own conclusions, Brian. It's been very well received. And so, I would anticipate exploring all options moving forward after the first couple of months.

Brian Vaccaro -- Raymond James -- Analyst

Very helpful. I'll pass it along. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. And your next question comes from the line of Todd Brooks from CL King & Associates. Your line is open.

Todd Brooks -- CL King & Associates -- Analyst

Hey, thanks for taking my question. First, if we can talk maybe weather and storm impact with that couple of tough weeks and actually still some tough weeks for Texas and a couple of the other states down south. But especially looking at the weekly IHOP sales, they have been remarkably consistent across the first seven weeks and it's just a bit of a surprise to me, given it looks like almost a quarter of the stores are in that kind of Texas, Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina belt. So, if we could talk maybe about the IHOP performance and lost store days at both brands due to the winter weather that we've had down South?

Jay D. Johns -- President, IHOP

Well, I think on the IHOP side, there is interesting drivers on our side of what -- as we've talked about before, capacity is probably the absolutely most important thing. Obviously when you get weather like that, close the restaurants down, we had about 200 restaurants across our system that were closed for multiple days because of weather impacts as it's spread across the country. So clearly, we had some impact on it. I don't think we've teased out all of the information as far as the total impact that we could say is only related to that. Holidays are a big impact for us as well. So when you look at the first quarter so far, it's been a lot of different holidays, a lot of different weeks that are a little odd compared to just a regular run rate week. As soon as we started to get the momentum going one direction, then the weather hit. This past week, we were rolling over National Pancake Day from last year which we canceled this year and have moved it to a spread out through April event.

So, there's a lot of things that just don't sync up real well. So, you may be seeing some odd numbers just because there's a lot going on in this data that is somewhat inconsistent when you look at it. I think the general trend I would say though is, if you look at -- taking a step back and looking at the big picture, we are trending in the right direction. We keep having these little hiccups that happen on given weeks, but I feel that this is about ready to make a nice move forward for us as the capacity restrictions are lifted.

John C. Cywinski -- President, Applebee's

And Todd, on the Applebee's front, had it not been for whether, we would have seen sequential improvement from January to the first three weeks of February. I won't quantify it. It's a little less than 100 basis points of impact.

Todd Brooks -- CL King & Associates -- Analyst

Okay, great. That's helpful, thanks. And then, can we talk going back national advertising wise? John, I think you said Applebee's back on in the past week or so. And Jay, I don't think you commented if IHOP's back on, they're not, but this had been such a positive driver for the same-store sales recovery in in fiscal '20 in the second half of the year. Can we talk about maybe share of voice that's out there now that you're going back into national advertising and then anticipated or hoped for lifts as you start to leg into especially those bigger weights when you get into Q2 through Q4?

Jay D. Johns -- President, IHOP

Hey, Todd. This is Jay. On the marketing front, we never went completely dark. We were always doing some kind of marketing be it digital or one-to-one and we cut back some on the -- what you would see as the big larger national TV campaigns, etc. So just like Applebee's, we have spread our budget a little differently this year just based on capacities, etc. And we are very confident. We have a great plan for the year, both with innovation and marketing and how we're going to come to market with things. So, I feel very comfortable. We've got a really good plan. We should have plenty of money as long as the bottom doesn't [Indecipherable] thing again with some kind of COVID resurgence that's really bad. I think we're going to have a nice portfolio of things to promote and we're going to have a lot of money to do that when we get into the second, third, fourth quarters.

John C. Cywinski -- President, Applebee's

And Todd on the Applebee's side, you referenced that we have something this year that we didn't have last year. We know how the brand has performed as restrictions ease and guests are more willing to dine out. So that trajectory you referenced last year, May through September, we moved from minus 50% to our first positive week of sales. And so -- we really have an exceptional team and they understand how to message both rationally and emotionally and that pacing and sequencing of messaging with our guests as we evolve out of this pandemic is something where they really do have a finger on the pulse, so to speak and you're seeing the start of that right now and I anticipate it will unfold and perhaps that trajectory will look similar if not better than what we saw over a five-month timeframe last year.

Todd Brooks -- CL King & Associates -- Analyst

That's very helpful. Thanks. Thanks to you both.

John C. Cywinski -- President, Applebee's

Thank you.

Jay D. Johns -- President, IHOP

Thanks, Todd.

Operator

Thank you. Your next question comes from the line of Brett Levy from MKM Partners. Your line is open.

Brett Levy -- MKM Partners -- Analyst

Great, thanks and good morning to you guys. Good afternoon from us. If you could talk a little bit more on how you're thinking about the capital allocation plans, obviously, debt pay down is going to be the biggest and the most immediate, but when you look at not just to the shareholders, but what else can you do in terms of investing in the infrastructure and also franchisee support. And then John Peyton, I have a question for you.

Allison Hall -- Interim Chief Financial Officer and Vice President, Corporate Controller

So, in terms of the capital allocation strategy, obviously, we wanted to pay down the VFN, the $220 million that we borrowed in March, which we're going to do this month, we really -- we can't say at this point because industry conditions are very variable at this time. We definitely want to continue to look at our dividend, our repurchase of shares, investment, both organically and non-organically, but it's really difficult to at least say anything down at this point just due to the industry conditions.

Brett Levy -- MKM Partners -- Analyst

On the M&A front, obviously, not looking for names, but what kind of criteria make your wish list if you were to go outside of your own system?

John Peyton -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure, Brett. It's John. I'll take that and I'll just tap a little bit on the last thing that Allison mentioned as well. When it comes to capital there's -- obviously there is -- thinking about dividends and shareholder return and buyback, but we're also looking at investments in technology, in virtual brand based upon our learnings from Cosmic Wings, possibly exploring the acquisition of a third brand. So, we're looking at all of that as we look toward 2022 and beyond. When it comes to M&A, when we do think about it, we'll be looking at the tuck-in acquisition, certainly substantial enough that it's accretive, but with the potential to grow to the size of our current brands or close to it. We're certainly interested in a high growth category that is complementary to the two segments that we're in and not competitive with our existing brands.

Brett Levy -- MKM Partners -- Analyst

And then, John, just -- you talked about all the things that you viewed as positives as you join into the Dine story and now excluding capacity and restrictions because those are obviously challenges outside of your concerns, where do you see the greatest opportunities for low-hanging fruit and what do you still see as the largest challenges and impediments to not just the recovery, but to meaningfully take share from your peers? Thanks.

John Peyton -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Thank you. So, in the short term, the biggest opportunity is vaccines, vaccines, vaccines. We are optimistic that people, all of us, are anxious to get out, see other people, hug other people, and reestablish a sense of connection and community and restaurants is a place to do that. Over the long-term, we are focused on and we've been investing throughout 2020 in the digital technology that's necessary to facilitate off-premise dining.

We think that growth in off-premise is incremental for us. We don't think -- we think it's going to settle somewhere above where we were pre-pandemic. We think it's introduced new consumers to our brands and we think we're now in the consideration set for takeout and delivery in a way that we weren't before because we demonstrated our ability to deliver. So, one of the best for the future is certainly off-premise dining facilitated by our investment in digital and things like that.

Brett Levy -- MKM Partners -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. And that is the time that we have for questions today. I would now like to turn the conference back to Mr. John peyton for any closing remarks.

John Peyton -- Chief Executive Officer

Just wanted to say thank you to all of you for your questions. For Allison and me, this is our first time speaking with all of you and we enjoyed and are looking forward to the conversation throughout the day and to our veterans, John and Jay, thanks as well for telling the story of your brands and answering the questions so well and we appreciate all of your interest and investment in our company and look forward to talking to you throughout the day. Thanks very much.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 60 minutes

Call participants:

Ken Diptee -- Executive Director of Investor Relations

John Peyton -- Chief Executive Officer

Allison Hall -- Interim Chief Financial Officer and Vice President, Corporate Controller

John C. Cywinski -- President, Applebee's

Jay D. Johns -- President, IHOP

Jake Bartlett -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Nick Setyan -- Wedbush Securities -- Analyst

Brian Vaccaro -- Raymond James -- Analyst

Todd Brooks -- CL King & Associates -- Analyst

Brett Levy -- MKM Partners -- Analyst

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