Earnings season is upon us in a rapid-fire pace. Many restaurant stocks will report soft results and blame their woes on the winter blues. Don't automatically give them a free pass. As Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (NASDAQ:RRGB) shown, that excuse is more noise than substance, contrary to what their competitors would have you believe.
Burger cabin fever
Red Robin has a long-standing sort of unofficial policy of not blaming the weather for anything in terms of results. While the humility is certainly admirable, investors want all the information they can get so that they can conduct informed, Foolish analysis.
During the question and answer session on the latest conference call, Stuart Brown, CFO of Red Robin, stated, "I think we are obviously affected, as everybody, as we try not to use weather as an excuse." He repeated Red Robin's mantra and basically tried to blow it off.
However, Brown pointed out a key reason why Red Robin doesn't blame the weather. He stated, "Generally, when we see a big storm like this happen, there'll be some sort of cabin fever afterwards where you pick some of this back up."
This suggests Red Robin's fan base almost feels like eating there is a need and not just a want. As an example, your snowed-in customer who normally goes there every Tuesday for lunch may come in on Friday instead when the roads are cleared. Perhaps the kids may have been looking forward to a plate of garlic French fries all week, and the storms have cancelled Saturday's plans. Canceling the plans won't make the cravings go away. The kids will just be asking about Red Robin again next week.
Chipotle hot off the grill
Sometimes we feel the "need" for certain types of cuisine. Gourmet Banzai burgers with all the fixings are harder to come by at home. And gourmet GMO-free burritos, such as you'll find at Chipotle Mexican Grill, just aren't happening in most of our kitchens.
Chipotle Mexican Grill is an example of a unique brand with an almost cult-like following. Many of us "need my Chipotle" on a regular basis. If you would have thought bad weather slowed down this chain, you would have thought wrong.
In the less-challenging first quarter of 2013, Chipotle Mexican Grill reported 1% same-store sales growth on a year-over-year basis. In the second quarter results popped 5.5%. In the third quarter, results jumped 6.2%. In the fourth, they leaped 9.3%; and just this past quarter with most of the country being pounded with snow, same-store sales exploded 13.4%. Whoa! What's going on? It seems like the worse the weather got, the better sales were.
Why brand beats weather
During the conference call, Monty Moran, co-CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, addressed the winter environment. He said,
"While many restaurants and retailers have talked about a tough consumer environment not because of the weather the type of economy our teams have created such a warm and welcoming environment that our customers visited at an accelerated rate during the quarter."
Did customers show up in snow mobiles or something?
Jack Hartung, CFO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, offered more color. He acknowledged that the weather creates volatility. No question that when a restaurant closes for a day, no matter how great the food or its marketing, there will be no sales. However, Chipotle Mexican Grill believes it's not an overall net negative over the course of a quarter.
What Chipotle Mexican Grill observed is that whenever bad weather hit a region and caused a dip in sales, when the skies and roads cleared, sales rebounded back so fierce that they were even higher than before the bad weather even hit.
This is in-line with Red Robin's characterization of a cabin-fever effect. The stampede levels off after a few days, but the net overall effect of the bad weather ends up being zero or maybe even slightly positive for the quarter. What a strong brand!
Foolish final thoughts
To quote another CEO of a popular restaurant chain (that I just saw on CNBC), "If you're snowed in on Friday night and can't go out with your wife for dinner, you'll simply go out Saturday night instead when the roads are clear." That seems to be the case for those craving Chipotle Mexican Grill and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. Don't let weather scare you for the long term with these two.