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Del Taco Restaurants, inc (TACO) Q3 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

By Motley Fool Transcribers - Oct 14, 2021 at 7:30PM

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TACO earnings call for the period ending September 7, 2021.

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Del Taco Restaurants, inc ( TACO 0.56% )
Q3 2021 Earnings Call
Oct 14, 2021, 4:30 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Hello, and thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Fiscal Third Quarter 2021 Conference Call and Webcast for Del Taco Restaurants, Inc.

I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. Raphael Gross, Managing Director at ICR, to begin.

Raphael Gross -- Investor Relations

Thank you. Good afternoon and welcome. On today's call are John Cappasola, President and Chief Executive Officer; and Steve Brake, Chief Financial Officer. After we deliver our prepared remarks, we will open the lines for your questions. But first, let me remind everyone that part of our discussion today will include forward-looking statements. These statements are not guarantees of future performance, and therefore undue reliance should not be placed upon them. We do not undertake to update these forward-looking statements at a later date and refer you to today's earnings press release and our SEC filings for more detailed discussion of the risks that could impact Del Taco's future operating results and financial condition.

Today's earnings press release also includes non-GAAP financial measures such as adjusted net income, adjusted EBITDA and restaurant contribution, along with reconciliations of these non-GAAP measures to the nearest GAAP measures. However, non-GAAP financial measures should not be considered as alternatives to GAAP measures such as net income or loss, operating income or loss, net cash flows provided by operating activities, or any other GAAP measure of liquidity or financial performance.

Let me now turn the call over to John Cappasola, President and Chief Executive Officer.

John D. Cappasola, Jr. -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Rafael and hello, everyone. We appreciate you all joining us for today's call. I'm very proud of our teams who continue to drive strong restaurant level execution in this difficult operating environment. Our third quarter performance was in line with our expectations, which I would characterize as a good outcome particularly in light of well-known cost pressures across the restaurant industry. On the top-line, we drove positive comparable restaurant sales across company operated and franchise restaurants compared to last year and compared to 2019 as we lap strong performance driven by our very successful launch of Crispy Chicken and despite the emergence of the Delta variant, along with well-documented staffing challenges in our category.

At the same time, the inflationary headwinds impacting our industry were managed through menu pricing totaling approximately 5% paired with operational excellence and strong guest satisfaction scores across our drive thru takeout and delivery channels. In addition, as you may have read in numerous recent press releases, we have been very active signing four additional new franchise development agreements from coast-to-coast since July, bringing our year-to-date total to seven new development agreements for 53 future commitments.

These new development agreements expand our pipeline and further support our ability to deliver 5% systemwide new unit growth led by franchising beginning in 2023. First, I will briefly review our third quarter highlights before discussing the specifics on these new franchise development agreements. During Q3, systemwide comparable restaurant sales grew 1.8% over the prior year, consisting of a 2% increase at franchised restaurants and a 1.6% increase at company operated restaurants. During Q3, on a same-store basis compared to 2019, company sales grew at a low single-digit rate, while franchised restaurants grew at a high single-digit rate.

Geographically, on a same-store basis versus 2019, our primarily franchised non-California restaurants grew approximately 10%, while California grew at approximately 4.6%. Restaurant contribution margin decreased by 150 basis points to 16.5%, which primarily related to normalized advertising expense of 4% of restaurant sales versus 3% last year. In terms of profit, adjusted EBITDA decreased to $14.1 million from $15.3 million. This reduction was primarily due to the dollar impact of the normalized advertising. Through our quarterly dividend and share repurchases we returned an aggregate $5.9 million of capital to shareholders and also reduced our outstanding revolver to $106 million from $110 million.

Finally, during Q3, we opened one company and three franchise restaurants and closed one company and one franchise restaurant to end with 603 systemwide restaurants. Now, let's discuss restaurant development and specifically how our new agreements with experienced restaurant operators provide momentum for our franchise-led growth. So far this year franchisees opened eight new restaurants and the company has opened three company-operated restaurants. Our fourth and final 2021 company opening will be our first new Fresh Flex prototype in our New Orlando seed market, and we expect one additional franchise opening.

Following three development agreements for 30 units announced prior to our Q2 call, since July we have signed an additional four new development agreements for another 23 units. These newest agreements cover future restaurants in four states from coast-to-coast, including the East Coast of Central Florida and Raleigh Durham, North Carolina, as well as Fresno, California, and non-traditional casino locations in Las Vegas. These signings demonstrate our growth potential, not only in the southeast, which we know has significant room to grow the brand, but also in California and in Las Vegas, where even with our current penetration, we believe there are still strong infill growth opportunities.

Importantly, our steady stream of new franchise development agreements has been aided by very strong interest in QSR drive through development and ultimately made possible by highly desirable Del Taco trades, including our unique QSR plus positioning, ubiquitous menu that drives broad appeal, strong track record of eight consecutive years of franchise comparable restaurant sales growth across 15 states and attractive new Fresh Flex prototype, which expands real estate opportunities to help lower net investment and modernizes the guest experience. On a related note, we recently announced a new delivery-only license agreement with REEF, a leader in the growing ghost kitchen space.

We expect to open our first REEF outlet in the dense urban mid-city area of Los Angeles later this month, which is the first of several planned outlets. We're excited about this new delivery-only partnership to help expand access to the brand where there is strong delivery demand, particularly in high density urban areas. As a reminder, we expect a modest step up in systemwide restaurants in 2022 compared to 2021 as existing franchisees begin to leverage Fresh Flex. However, we believe our growing franchise development pipeline, including seven new agreements for 53 Del Taco restaurants signed this year, puts us in a strong position to deliver on our stated goal of systemwide new unit growth of 5% beginning in 2023.

Regarding our test remodel program, we are currently integrating our Fresh Flex prototype into our remodel design and remain on track to complete up to 20 company-operated remodels this year, including 10 extensive remodels of older facilities and 10 remodels of more modern facilities with primarily cosmetic upgrades at a lower investment level. We are excited about the transformative impact these remodels are having on the restaurant the transformative impact these remodels are having on the restaurant and expect to continue to invest in this important brand and AUV driving initiative as we move into 2022.

Turning to sales and marketing; we continue to execute on our five sales acceleration drivers, and those are value leadership, menu innovation, brand engagement, digital transformation and ultimate convenience. These pillars are anchored by our focus for better operations execution strategy designed to ensure that we provide guests and employees outstanding brand experiences. Let me start with operations. The entire industry is feeling the impact of labor staffing challenges, and we are no exception. For certain restaurants with labor availability challenges, we selectively increase wages and in some cases temporarily closed dining rooms or limit our late night and early morning hours of operation.

The need to reduce operating hours increased throughout Q3 and impacted the company-operated comparable restaurant sales by slightly under 1% during fiscal Q3. We believe this impact has peaked at approximately 1% thus far during fiscal Q4 based on recent improvements from our efforts to combat the labor challenges. Specifically, we are executing our holistic staffing strategy focused on both recruitment and retention. On the retention side, we are showing appreciation for our teams through things like daily pay, free meals, and doubling our referral bonuses along with special events like Employee Appreciation Month.

We have also enhanced our talent acquisition through new digital recruiting efforts to increase our presence on job boards and simplify the application process to reduce friction for applicants. Recently, our actions have begun to translate into increased applicant flow that is allowing hot spot restaurants to return to more normalized operations. As we add staff to these locations we are also investing in additional training to set the new team members up for success. Turning to sales and marketing; in August, we leveraged our menu innovation introducing another exciting platform Stuffed Quesadilla Tacos, which takes our fan favorite Quesadilla and adds creamy Casablanca folded into the shape of a taco shell and stuffed with grilled chicken, Carne Asada steak or crispy chicken, as well as our fresh guacamole as an add-on.

These tacos represent a trade-up from our current tacos and have been met with strong consumer demand, mixing it over 6% of sales thus far which has helped us maintain our positive sales momentum as we lapped the very successful crispy chip chicken launch a year ago. Next month, we welcome the seasonal return of our authentic Tamale menu, which we consider a perfect holiday comfort food. Our Tamales are made with seasoned shredded pork and a fire roasted salsa surrounded by a layer of soft stone ground corn masa and wrapped in an authentic corn husk. We will also offer a Tamale Fiesta pack with 12 tamales to feed the whole family with a simple trip to our convenient drive-thrus or delivery channels.

On the day part front, delivery remains a key driver of sales growth, representing over 7% of sales during the third quarter. Delivery is particularly well-suited to capitalize on guest demand for convenience and value during our late night hours of operation when delivery over indexes and is helping to drive outsized one- and two-year growth in our late night day parts. Turning now to digital transformation; last month we successfully launched our new holistic CRM platform and introduced our new loyalty app called Del Yeah! Rewards. Del Yeah! Rewards is a rewards is a point based loyalty program featuring four tiers named Queso, Scorcho, Inferno, and Epic that unlock exciting offers, rewards, and experiences, which increase along with the usage of the app.

Del Yeah! Rewards also enables us to unlock our customer data to drive personalized and valued experiences by delivering unique messages and offers in a way that members are most apt to respond to. We are very excited by the launch of this loyalty program and look forward to sharing more on its impact in the business on future calls. Finally, reflecting our commitment to deliver shareholder returns, we paid our third quarterly cash dividend of $0.04 per share in late August and today announced our fourth quarterly dividend of $0.04 per share, which will be paid on November 24. We also repurchased approximately $4.4 million of common stock during the quarter as part of our buyback program.

Looking ahead, although the current environment continues to present staffing challenges and inflationary pressure, our relevant QSR+ positioning, use of innovation and ability to deliver value across our barbell menu strategy provides us with significant pricing power that we will utilize to manage inflation as we exit 2021 and enter 2022. This focus along with our strong foundation, which now includes our new Del Yeah! Rewards program and an expanding group of franchisees eager to invest in our brand for the long-term, have set us up for a continued growth and expansion.

Now, I'll turn the call over to Steve to review our Q3 financial results and outlook.

Steven L. Brake -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, John. For the third quarter, total revenue increased 2.9% to $124.3 million from $120.8 million in the year ago period. Company restaurant sales increased 2.2% to $112 million from $109.5 million in the year-ago period, which is primarily driven by positive comparable restaurant sales and to a lesser extent new company operated restaurants. Franchise revenue increased 8.1% year-over-year to $5.6 million from $5.2 million last year. The growth was primarily driven by the increase in franchise comparable restaurant sales, coupled with additional franchise operated restaurants compared to last year.

As John said earlier, systemwide comparable restaurant sales increased 1.8%, consisting of a 1.6% increase at company-operated restaurants and a 2% increase at franchised restaurants. Turning to expenses, food and paper costs as a percentage of company restaurant sales decreased approximately 30 basis points year-over-year to 26.2% from 26.5%. This was primarily driven by a menu price increase of approximately 5% that exceeded food inflation of just over 4%. As expected, inflationary pressure materialized during the second half of 2021 and our projected Q4 food inflation is approximately 5%, resulting in full year inflation of approximately 2%.

To help manage this inflation, we accelerated the timing and magnitude of our fall price increase and now expect menu price of 5.5% in the fourth quarter. Looking ahead, we believe our QSR+ positioning and the attractive price points we offer across our barbell menu strategy drives a compelling value proposition and provides us with significant pricing power that we plan to utilize in the New Year to help manage food inflation that will likely extend into the first half of 2022. Labor and related expenses as a percentage of company restaurant sales increased 80 basis points to 33.2% from 32.4%, driven primarily by minimum wage increases in California and Nevada, as well as wage rate pressure from restaurants with labor availability challenges where we selectively increase wages.

These impacts were partially offset by the impact from our positive comparable restaurant sales including elevated menu pricing, effective management of variable labor, and a reduction in worker's comp expense based on favorable underlying trends. Occupancy and other operating expenses as a percentage of company restaurant sales increased by approximately 100 basis points to 24.1% from 23.1% last year. This increase was primarily due to higher advertising expense, which normalized at 4% of restaurant sales compared to 3% in the prior year quarter and higher utility expense. Restaurant contribution decreased 6.3% to $18.5 million compared to $19.7 million in the prior year while restaurant contribution margin decreased approximately 150 basis points to 16.5% from 18% primarily due to the aforementioned higher advertising compared to last year.

General and administrative expenses were $11.2 million, up from 10.8% million last year, and as a percentage of total revenue held steady at 9% compared to last year. The increase was primarily driven by increased non-cash stock-based compensation, travel expense, and general inflationary trends partially offset by lower management incentive compensation expense. Adjusted EBITDA decreased 8% to $14.1 million compared to $15.3 million last year and decreased as a percentage of total revenues to 11.3% from 12.7% last year. Depreciation and amortization was $6.0 million down from $6.1 million last year due to the impact of fully depreciated assets and decreased 20 basis points to 4.8% as a percent of total revenue.

Interest expense was $0.7 million, compared to $0.9 million last year. The decrease was due to a lower average outstanding revolver balance and lower interest rate compared to 2020. During the third fiscal quarter, our outstanding revolving credit facility borrowing was reduced from $110 million to $106 million and the remaining availability under the revolving credit facility was $130.6 million. Along with this debt reduction, we also repurchased 449,324 shares of common stock at an average price of $9.87 per share during the third quarter for a total of $4.4 million and paid our third quarterly cash dividend, totaling $1.5 million.

At the end of the fiscal third quarter, approximately $10.6 million remained under our $75 million repurchase authorization. Net income was $3.8 million or $0.10 per diluted share, compared to $5.8 million or $0.15 per diluted share last year. We also reported adjusted net income, which excludes items identified in our earnings release in the financial tables. Adjusted net income was $4.2 million or approximately $0.11 per diluted share compared to $6.0 million or $0.16 per diluted share of last year.

In today's earnings press release, we formally announced our fourth quarterly dividend of $0.04 per share of common stock that would be paid on November 24, 2021 to shareholders of record at the close of business on November 3, 2021. Finally, through the first five weeks of our 16 week fiscal Q4, our company operated comparable restaurant sales were up approximately 3% and franchise comparable restaurant sales are up over 4% despite the impact from reduced operating hours that John referenced. Please refer to today's earnings press release for our fiscal 2021 guidelines.

That concludes our formal remarks. As always thank you for your interest in Del Taco and we are happy to answer any questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And our first question is from Alex Slagle with Jefferies. Please proceed with your question.

Alex Slagle -- Jefferies LLC -- Analyst

All right. Thank you. On same-store sales just wanted to walk through some of the drivers, I'm trying to think through some of the biggest tailwinds and headwinds. And it sounds like the trends improved pretty good here quarter-to-date. But maybe first just on the intro of the CRM platform and loyalty program and just how we should think about that in terms of directly impacting the comps in the early stages, if at all, or how should we think about that piece?

John D. Cappasola, Jr. -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, it's early Alex. I mean, we're seeing some really good directional trends but we're only four weeks in. So as a reminder we launched on September 9 and then we did the hard launch, which was point of purchase materials at the restaurant, starting to do some of the marketing on September 16. So just a few weeks ago and then really our second wave campaign, which was really a focus on marketing and acquisition and getting folks to transition, not only get new members but get folks to transition from the old app to the new app kicked off here on October 4 with some tags on television and radio and promoting it through our direct mail and FSI drops, and we've also got some digital media acquisition going.

So it's early days, but what I would say is that you know directionally it's -- what's happening is kind of what we wanted to have happen, which was you look at the motivation that occurs with both current and new members related to the point-based system and that structure designed to motivate and reward behavior. So we've seen, there's unique active users already in the first four weeks perform at a similar level that we had with our old app. And that's before we've even completed the migration, right? You've still got guests that are moving into the new app from the old app.

The other kind of piece that we thought was really telling and interesting was that nearly 40% of the new member -- of the members coming into Del Yeah! Rewards are actually new members. So these are folks that were not in the old app. So again, just kind of speaks to the motivation around that app not just being an offer engine. There's reasons to be involved with the brand and engage with the brand in that and certainly be able to earn points and move up into loyalty tiers is a big part of that. So we feel great about the first four weeks. Execution has been good and a lot more marketing to come in regards to that app as we move to the back end here of Q4 and into obviously 2022.

Alex Slagle -- Jefferies LLC -- Analyst

Okay. And how many members are you up to now?

John D. Cappasola, Jr. -- President and Chief Executive Officer

So we have nearly 250,000 members in the first four weeks. So again, that's a combination of those new folks I referenced, nearly 40% and then folks migrating over from the old app into the new app. So, again, just to underscore when you see the unique active users performing at a similar level in the first four weeks in aggregate, in totality of that -- on that $250,000 number compared to the $1.5 million that we had in the old app, that's pretty impressive. And I think it speaks to the frequency and usage that's happening within the new loyalty program.

Alex Slagle -- Jefferies LLC -- Analyst

Okay. And then I'm thinking about some of the other drivers, staffing and obviously that you talked about that being a 100 basis point sort of impact and I guess working that down and then just in terms of menu innovation and promotional lapse. I mean, kind of what would you call out as the biggest driver for us to think about in terms of changing the trajectory and accelerating the comps?

John D. Cappasola, Jr. -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. I think it's important to remember that, Q3 was positive, going over positive for both the company and franchise same-store sales trends. And Q4 thus far, as we noted is also positive, going over positive for company and franchise. It's important to remember that we were able to achieve same-store sales growth in Q3 and Q4 2020 despite the pandemic. And we just happened to roll over in Q3 one of our the more successful product launches in the history of the company, which was the Crispy Chicken Taco or the Crispy Chicken menu in 2020.

I think overall, what I'd say on this front is the product launches with Stuffed Quesadilla Tacos and Double Cheese Breakfast Tacos along with Del Yeah! Rewards, which will continue to build momentum are driving improved year-on-year same-store sales trends as we look at the first five weeks of Q4, compared to Q3, and that's really despite those operating -- operating in a more challenging environment year-on-year due to some of those staffing challenges that we referenced in those hot spot stores.

So overall, we expect to finish 2021 with six consecutive quarters of same-store sales growth in both the company and franchise and that's basically going back to obviously the last negative quarter was Q2 of 2020, which was the first quarter of the pandemic. So I think overall we feel good about the trend and programs that we've launched recently and we think that that's -- they're going a long way in helping us continue to drive same-store sales growth.

Alex Slagle -- Jefferies LLC -- Analyst

And just last question, I just wanted to see on delivery, if you're seeing any changes in demand or anything now that we're kind of moving past the potential benefits of the stimulus and extended unemployment benefit to be seen, anything there?

Steven L. Brake -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

We continue to see delivery for the system both company and franchise continue to grow modestly. Both company and franchise were north of 7% during fiscal Q3 which we view as a good sign especially since we did implement another slight uptick to our menu price premium for delivery on the company's side -- company restaurants at about 22.5%. Franchisees also in that low to mid-20% area. So we feel good about the model and the trend.

Alex Slagle -- Jefferies LLC -- Analyst

Great. Thank you.

Operator

And our next question is from Nick Setyan with Wedbush Securities. Please proceed with your question.

Nick Setyan -- Wedbush Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

Thank you. What was the overall average check in the quarter, Steve?

Steven L. Brake -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

It was in the mid-high 9s.

Nick Setyan -- Wedbush Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

Got it. And 5.5% pricing in Q4 -- assuming it kind of stays in that 5% range like in the first half of 2022. You guys kind of gave us 5% food cost inflation in Q4. I mean, does that imply like we should see COGS as a percentage of sales come down in Q4 versus Q4 of last year or is there some mix shift that we should think about?

Steven L. Brake -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, the commentary is -- looking at both food inflation and menu price, both being in that 5-plus percent area, which would imply flattish for Q4 on a year-over-year basis, which is I think, you're actually correct, as you know, your waste inefficiencies can somewhat play into the food line as well not to mention product mix. But in general, that would be a flattish implication for Q4 year-over-year.

Nick Setyan -- Wedbush Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

And I guess the same question on labor. Q3 sort of 5% assuming 6% inflation. We saw about 80 bps of labor deleverage just given the level of pricing, perhaps I would have thought it would have been a little less. Is there like overtime pay? Has there been -- just kind of maybe go through the puts and takes on labor that we should think about in terms of how to think about the overall maybe hourly growth versus just inflation. How should we think about that as we kind of think about how to model the labor line?

Steven L. Brake -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. On labor, as typical with our California heavy and Nevada heavy footprint, the main driver of inflation is California and Nevada, minimum wages. That is working against us. I would say the operational efficiency has been very good at the restaurant level. So that's been a positive. Operators are executing that very well. But again back to the minimum wage again, that's the main driver. And then, John touched on it and certainly it's more on a limited basis, but there are kind of hot spot restaurants, if you will, which are a minority Restaurants, if you will, which are a minority but those are situations where we are paying a higher you know prevailing wage as appropriate.

And then in addition some of the labor availability challenges that John touched upon you know that of course does play into you know not just some curtailment of operating hours, but also indeed you hit the nail on the head an increase uptick in overtime. So all that serves to boost up average effective wage, which includes the impact of overtime. Any given year average wage will continue to tick up during the course of the year. This year that additional rate of growth has been higher in for a year than we've seen before. That's not a long term basis. As you know average wage, you know, with the California footprint, we are on a path toward $15 an hour where minimum wage culminates in California starting January 1, just a few months from now.

In fact at $15 level then maintained through 2023. So it's certainly possible that some of this end year uptick in wage, we're experiencing maybe more of a timing issue when you think about the long term. That said, it was pressuring us a bit in Q3 played into that, the leverage that you saw. And you know, given the trend that will continue into Q4, we'll again expect, deleverage on that line and again, with the low single digit call it same-store sales trajectory. That's what leads to deleverage overall.

Nick Setyan -- Wedbush Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

Understood. And just last question, you kind of commented that more recently you've seen some of the labor pressure come down. First, is that a correct interpretation? And second, understanding that you don't really have a crystal ball, but I guess what's your internal estimate or expectation or how you're strategizing for what -- when the timeframe for when -- when that may normalize? Is it by the end of Q4 or is it more like you know the middle of 2022 in terms of the staffing issue?

John D. Cappasola, Jr. -- President and Chief Executive Officer

So Nick, it remains very fluid. It's hard to predict exactly what's going to happen, but I'll say we've got a very holistic strategy that we've talked about on a couple of calls now in regards to how we're thinking about both acquiring quality, talent, as well as keeping quality talent and making sure that we're training and developing them. And, overall, I think our operators and our franchisees are just doing an outstanding job, leading in this environment with our people first focus and navigating kind of a very challenging time.

That said, the hotspot restaurants where we've reduced operating hours by an hour or more or so, that roughly represented somewhere in the kind of mid to high teens as a percent of restaurants. Kind of as you look at it, week-to-week, it changes a little bit week-to-week depending on the situation with the restaurants. We are managing it. Our operators and our franchisees are managing a daily and weekly. But the commentary around it peaking, so far in Q4 at about 1% that's due to a really nice improvement in applicant flow coming in to the system in the last few weeks.

And that that is related to a digital recruitment campaign that we are investing into that we have the ability to kind of really target on a zip code basis and put extra dollars into stores that need more help and take some dollars away from stores that don't need quite as much help. And that's actually improved the applicant pool for us by 4 times over the last few weeks. So, those quality applicants coming into the system, that's step one for these hotspot restaurants and then getting those folks trained properly and develop properly to create great guest experiences that's step two, but certainly we've seen some of these hotspot restaurants start to return back to more normalized operating hours, I should say in recent weeks.

Nick Setyan -- Wedbush Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

Understood. Thank you.

Operator

And our next question is from Todd Brooks with C.L. King & Associates. Please proceed with your question.

Todd Brooks -- C.L. King & Associates, Inc. -- Analyst

Hey, good afternoon guys. Good job navigating a tough environment here. I wanted to lead off with just kind of same-store sales progression for the comparison obviously crispy chicken a massive platform for you guys. Good success with new products during Q3 allowing you to still comp positively even with the headwinds from labor. How does the kind of comparison look across the back half of the fourth quarter relative to what you've talked about comparing against him that that 3% to 4% range so far in the quarter. Does it ease at all to move farther into the crispy chicken lunch?

John D. Cappasola, Jr. -- President and Chief Executive Officer

For the system tied both the company and franchise, we have a 16 week fourth quarter, the second the later eight weeks did performed better a year ago than the first eight weeks. So the compare if you will get a little bit more difficult as we round out the back half of the quarter.

Steven L. Brake -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

But I think at the same the burn off from crispy chicken started to occur. We were maintaining higher sales mix. But that initial excitement around crispy chicken really was burning off. And in September and now obviously having some of these new platforms that we've launched, and hope you continue to see gaining momentum along with our tamales LPO that happens kind of in November. We think we're in a pretty good position, to obviously have a positive, positive same-store sales in the company in the franchise business in Q4 and put up a nice result.

Todd Brooks -- C.L. King & Associates, Inc. -- Analyst

Great. And you do have the benefit of Del Yeah! now which you did not have last year as a driver, so.

Steven L. Brake -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Definitely.

Todd Brooks -- C.L. King & Associates, Inc. -- Analyst

Okay, great. Secondly, can you give us some details behind the REEF partnership? How does that work? Is that a royalty arrangement? And I guess if you look at the markets that you're operating, I know you're about to open the first later this month. But what's the potential of kind of densely urban markets that you could see if this works dropping a REEF ghost kitchen into?

Steven L. Brake -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, we're excited about it. The first outlet will open later this month. Very dense urban or a dense urban area of LA. Really the purpose here is expand access to the brand, particularly in dense areas where there's a lot of guest indications, occasions that we're just not sort of seeing today. So we're excited about that. As we mentioned, there are several more planned. Overall to your question, it really is very akin to franchising. It's a license deal very similar to a franchise arrangement, although it does feature a reduced marketing contribution, which is appropriate based on the nature of its delivery-only channel. So really focused right now is having a good successful launch here. Moving forward with the additional planned openings down the road and really learn from it and then decide from there, in partnership with REEF, what the future looks like. So we're excited a lot more to come, including, performance out of the first of several outlets.

Todd Brooks -- C.L. King & Associates, Inc. -- Analyst

Okay, great. And then final one for me. Real acceleration in your franchising activity here in the third quarter with larger scale partners which is great to say. I guess two questions on this front. How does kind of the pipeline look behind it? Are there people that are conditioning their decision to go on seeing kind of the first Fresh Flex come out of the ground of Florida this quarter?

And secondly, with the types of partners that you're signing with, my sense is the bandwidth is there that a signed deal if it works could grow pretty dramatically. Could you talk about maybe other brand nameplates that these partners are running and a 10-year deal and the potential for it to grow into something if it really works for them? Thanks.

John D. Cappasola, Jr. -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Sure, Todd. We -- so first off, from a pipeline perspective, we've been building obviously building pipeline with a great group of existing franchisees for some time now. And I think our existing group that really is the foundation of our pipeline has done a nice job and is really excited about Fresh Flex and continues to build opportunities. And especially now as you look at having with our menu venue strategy, more and more assets to grow us than we had before. It's not the old kind of cookie cutter model anymore now.

We've expanded the asset group to be drive thru only, which is a smaller footprint and perhaps gives you the opportunity to access trader is, you couldn't have access before all the way up to more of a standard prototype with a dining room. So that existing group is -- has been and will continue to build pipeline and be a big part of our growth story. And then what you referenced is the seven new deals for 53 units that we've signed this year. Obviously, those will start to come to fruition here over the next, over the next 18 months to 24 months. Those initial stores are opening.

And to your point, we are absolutely taking a quality over quantity type of an approach with these groups. We certainly see some operators that we've signed that have some big brand nameplates to your point and have capability and current store counts in the multi-dozen range and more. And we know that with success begets excitement and more success and that's what we'll intend on delivering and supporting the partners to do. So to your point, there is definitely some upside, but we need to execute, we need to deliver the brand and we need to give our new partners the support for them to be able to kind of get to that next level of growth, if you will.

Todd Brooks -- C.L. King & Associates, Inc. -- Analyst

Okay, great. Thanks, John.

John D. Cappasola, Jr. -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Got it.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And our next question is from Nicole Miller with Piper Sandler. Please proceed with your question.

Nicole Miller Regan -- Piper Sandler & Co. -- Analyst

Thank you so much, and good afternoon. Just a couple of quick ones. On the fourth quarter price 5.5%, did that start day one of 4Q or is that coming now?

Steven L. Brake -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

It all evolves slightly throughout the quarter, but throughout the quarter, we will be maintaining somewhere between 5% and 6% based on the timing of what we're rolling over. So essentially, day one, we're in the 5% plus area.

Nicole Miller Regan -- Piper Sandler & Co. -- Analyst

Okay. I was just trying to true it up to the commentary of the quarter-to-date comp, so I appreciate that to see how much more prices on the comp against difficult compares given the earlier question. And then second on comp, and this is probably maybe just nuanced, but company-owned improvement could reflect easing compares, but franchise comp gets more challenging and they're doing much better. We know price could be a factor. Is there anything else you would point to any other channel day part, regional trend that we should be aware of?

Steven L. Brake -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, we still have a very fairly pronounced theme of geographic differences, so company is heavily -- California, Southern California specifically and Las Vegas where franchises are operating across the 15 states footprint. So, we continue to see on a one and two year basis, really outsized, very strong performance, particularly outside of California, which is largely in favor of our franchise community, where we share markets with franchisees in Southern California performances much more aligned with much more modest franchise outperformance. So really that geographic theme continues to be fairly pronounced in favor of franchise.

Nicole Miller Regan -- Piper Sandler & Co. -- Analyst

Okay, thanks. And then just the last one, I mean I was just kind of listening to the presentation and thinking at a very high level, this is really about swapping and refranchising some stores for a high flow through EBITDA stream, right? And so I know there's mention of like 2% revenue growth, but I'm looking at what was like 5% total system sales growth and up almost or more than 10% versus 2019. So have I characterized that properly and the system's probably growing faster than just looking at that total revenue line, right?

Steven L. Brake -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, a metric like systemwide sales, which captures barbell sales of a 600 unit system, it certainly would reflect the more robust growth you're describing, whereas, in the company P&L the revenue line is still heavily influenced by company restaurant sales that are certainly comping positive and growing but at a lower rate compared to franchise, whereas franchise revenue does show that robust growth that you alluded to.

Nicole Miller Regan -- Piper Sandler & Co. -- Analyst

Yeah, and you spot out some stores, right, and that's the plan. So again, in favor of a recurring royalty stream. So I guess I just want to make sure like we're all making that comparison as well. So just ticking and tying, and I think that's it for me. Thank you for taking my questions. And I'd appreciate it.

Steven L. Brake -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

You're welcome.

John D. Cappasola, Jr. -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Nicole.

Operator

And we have reached the end of the question-and-answer session, and I'll now turn the call back over to management for closing remarks.

John D. Cappasola, Jr. -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Okay. Thank you, operator, and we certainly appreciate everyone taking the time today with us, and we thank you for your interest in Del Taco. It's exciting to accelerate growth and we feel great about our prospects on that front. So we look forward to sharing our progress on future calls. Have a great day.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 44 minutes

Call participants:

Raphael Gross -- Investor Relations

John D. Cappasola, Jr. -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Steven L. Brake -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Alex Slagle -- Jefferies LLC -- Analyst

Nick Setyan -- Wedbush Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

Todd Brooks -- C.L. King & Associates, Inc. -- Analyst

Nicole Miller Regan -- Piper Sandler & Co. -- Analyst

More TACO analysis

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