What happened

Shares of Bloomin' Brands (BLMN 2.90%) popped to all-time highs on Thursday following the release of the company's financial results for the first quarter of 2021. In short, investors are excited that its sales have completely recovered from the harsh operating environment of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 11:20 a.m. EST, the stock was up 11%.

So what

For 2020, Bloomin' Brands reported a 23% year-over-year decline in total revenues and registered a net loss of nearly $159 million. The company was at a disadvantage from coronavirus lockdowns and dine-in capacity limitations because it's primarily a dine-in restaurant operator. However, things are rapidly improving. Q1 comparable sales in the U.S. were up 3.3% from the first quarter of last year.

A chalkboard features a line graph that demonstrates dollar signs getting larger over time.

Image source: Getty Images.

Of course, take the comp-sales growth in Q1 with a grain of salt -- Bloomin' Brands sales were down last year as the pandemic came in toward the end of the quarter, so it was an easier comparison. However, through the first four weeks of the second quarter, comparable sales are up 12.6% from 2019 levels. In other words, it's officially fair to say that sales at Bloomin' Brands have made a complete recovery, and that's why the stock is up today.

Now what

As exciting as it is to see fully recovered sales, Bloomin' Brands investors should try to keep some perspective. Right now, the stock is about 40% higher than it was at the close of 2019. While it's clearly recovering well and its business is showing growth from where it was before the pandemic, the company does face new challenges in 2021 like increases in food and labor expenses. Things like this could continue to challenge its bottom line in the coming year, which might make it hard for this restaurant stock to maintain its recent outperformance.