What happened

Shares of popular restaurant chains The Cheesecake Factory (NASDAQ:CAKE), BJ's Restaurants (NASDAQ:BJRI), and Dave & Buster's Entertainment (NASDAQ:PLAY) are respectively soaring 10%, 17%, and 18% early Wednesday after markets digested positive vaccine data and a set of strong pre-open earnings results.

So what

Moderna has been developing a vaccine for COVID-19 at high speed. The company reported positive results in May, but the data was largely incomplete. Now, however, we have more insight to the data, and the results look promising. Moderna's vaccine produced neutralizing antibodies in all 45 patients, according to data published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The vaccine candidate was found "generally safe and well-tolerated," and a late-stage trial of the vaccine is set to begin July 27. "These Phase 1 data demonstrate that vaccination with mRNA-1273 elicits a robust immune response across all dose levels and clearly support the choice of 100 µg in a prime and boost regimen as the optimal dose for the Phase 3 study," said Tal Zaks, Moderna's chief medical officer, in a press release.

A physician holds a bottle labeled COVID-19 vaccine

Image source: Getty Images.

In addition to Moderna's positive vaccine data, Goldman Sachs helped lead the markets higher after it reported a much stronger second quarter than Wall Street expected. The company's profitability held steady compared with the prior year despite COVID-19 impacts, and its investment banking revenue hit a record. Despite the stronger-than-expected quarter, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon reiterated that the economic outlook still "remains uncertain."

Now what

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As you can see in the graphic above, the dine-in restaurant industry has been hit hard during social distancing and broader COVID-19 impacts. The fact that Moderna and other companies are rapidly developing promising vaccine candidates, which should enable consumers to get back to their normal lives with less concern and risk of contracting the disease, is a huge positive for restaurants that have been doing all they can to survive.

Cheesecake Factory focused on bolstering its off-premise sales business model and was aiming to have 65% of its dining rooms open almost exactly one month ago. The company's focus on growing off-premise sales to offset slower, or nonexistent, dine-in business, is partially why it has performed better than a restaurant such as Dave & Buster's, which generates a chunk of its bottom line from games and drinks and has had less ability and/or demand for off-premise business. First-quarter comparable sales for Dave & Buster's dropped nearly 60% as all of its stores shut down for the final six weeks of the period. BJ's Restaurants also reported that fiscal 2020 second-quarter comparable restaurant sales declined roughly 64% through June 9, 2020.

With sales struggling, and the pain all but certain to bleed into the second quarter and beyond, restaurant stocks will continue to react positively to any optimistic vaccination news. For now, the companies have positioned themselves with as much liquidity as possible to survive the downturn and are just waiting for consumers to get back to their normal routines.