This week has been anything but quiet for companies in the retail and restaurant sectors. Read on to catch up on the major happenings.

Domestic clinics and foreign flameouts
Early in the week, we learned that Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) would switch to a co-branded approach for its in-store health clinics. The drugstore channel is miles ahead of discounters in the limited-service health clinic race, and I have my doubts whether the Bentonville behemoth is truly serious about the venture at this point. Time will tell, but by then, the company may have lost the race.

Across the Pacific, Wal-Mart's Japanese joint venture is expected to post a loss that's only double previous expectations. With slumping same-store-sales and mounting writedowns, the world's largest retailer continues to find the Japanese market a tough nut to crack. Wal-Mart has enjoyed great success in Canada, Mexico, and the U.K -- countries where it leaned on a strong business partner. Germany, Korea, and Japan have posted less stellar results, leading some Wal-Mart watchers to suspect that low-price leadership isn't a ticket to success everywhere.

No diamond in the rough
High-flying jewelry e-tailer Blue Nile (Nasdaq: NILE) spooked investors this week, serving up a 2008 outlook that calls for sales growth around 10% and potentially flat earnings. Needless to say, investors were underwhelmed by such news, especially from a stock sporting a P/E ratio greater than 40 times trailing-12-month earnings, and the stock promptly shed about 17% of its market cap.

Despite an e-commerce business model that has the potential to beat the pants off bricks-and-mortar jewelers, Blue Nile's tumble is not completely unforseen. Business at traditional jewelers appears to have fallen off a cliff during the holidays, with early returns of Valentines Day business looking little better. While business at Blue Nile was solid in December, jewelry is definitely a discretionary purchase -- not the best space to occupy when consumers are feeling the pinch.

What's cookin', Red Lobster?
On the restaurant front, Darden Restaurants (NYSE: DRI) trotted out a bevy of executives to defend its sustainable growth strategy, in hopes of convincing analysts that the recent acquisition of Longhorn Steakhouse is actually progressing better than originally planned.

The presentation to analysts followed management's prediction of rosy results for the third quarter, which caught investors (and one analyst) by surprise. The stock hopped up 8% on the news. While I didn't find management's arguments wholly convincing, it's instructive to see management making its case. About time someone stood up for the casual-dining sector, which is looking pretty cheap these days.

B-Dubs is Rodney Dangerfield
Meanwhile Buffalo Wild Wings (Nasdaq: BWLD) saw its shares jump 12%, following an earnings release that vindicated the company's long-term targets of 20% sales and 25% annual earnings growth. Of all the restaurant stocks I follow, B-Dubs seems to have the best long-term prospects, with its winning combination of great food, fun atmosphere, and value pricing. With 493 restaurants in the U.S., this chain is only one-third the size of Chili's. I sense some tasty growth ahead.

Fellow Fool Anders Bylund dubbed Buffalo Wild Wings the Rodney Dangerfield of Wall Street, noting that the company has not been feeling the love in recent months. Check out his valuation assumptions, and decide for yourself whether a healthy dose of hot wings should be part of your portfolio.

Panera's toasted earnings
Amid these encouraging signs for restaurant companies, Panera Bread (Nasdaq: PNRA) managed to beat analyst expectations for the fourth quarter. But a less-than-robust forecast for 2008 made Alyce Lomax wonder whether this toast was a bit on the burnt side.

Panera has an enviable history of sales and earnings growth. I attribute this to the one-two punch of occupying the right space between fast food and conventional restaurants, and enlisting a group of experienced and well-capitalized franchisees. But I don't see Panera's current earnings supporting a 20-plus trailing price/earnings multiple.

This Bear needs some help
Build-A-Bear Workshop (NYSE: BBW) reported ugly results on slumping revenue, a 12.6% drop in comps, and inventory writedowns. While the company seeks suitors via "strategic alternatives," the weak retail environment isn't making the process any easier. Perhaps private equity is a better answer for this gimmicky retailer, which went public with its interactive approach three years ago.

On the whole...
That's the company-specific news for this week. We're starting to see some welcome signs of life, as overall retail sales in January posted an unexpected gain of 0.3% for the month. Economists were expecting a 0.3% decline following a 0.4% dip in December.

Consumers don't appear to be rolling over and dying, but they're holding onto their wallets with unusual intensity -- reports suggest that gift-card sales in January went more toward staple items like food than discretionary purchases. Next week, we'll get a sense for whether Valentine's Day persuaded shoppers to loosen up a bit.

Blue Nile is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation, and Panera is a Hidden Gems Pay Dirt pick. Wal-Mart is an Inside Value selection, while Buffalo Wild Wings is a longtime favorite of Hidden Gems. All bears enjoy taking the Fool's free 30-day trial out for a spin when they emerge from hibernation.

Fool contributor Timothy M. Otte surveys the retail scene from Dallas. He welcomes comments on his articles. Tim owns shares of Wal-Mart, but none of the other companies mentioned in this article. Even Rodney Dangerfield admired the Fool's disclosure policy.