Don't look now, but Ruby Tuesday (NYSE:RT) might not be dying after all. The beleaguered casual-dining chain's stock was one of last week's rare winners, soaring 15% after the company posted better than expected quarterly results.
The numbers might not seem pretty at first. Revenue declined, falling short of analyst targets. It posted another adjusted quarterly loss. However, there's plenty to like once you take a bigger bite out of Ruby Tuesday's performance.
Yes, the $281.2 million in quarterly revenue fell shy of both the $283.2 million the pros were forecasting and the $289.7 million the company rang up during last year's fiscal first quarter. However, Ruby Tuesday has closed down 38 underperforming locations over the past year. That's obviously going to chew away at the top line. Comparable-restaurant sales at company-owned locations actually ticked up by 1.1%, fueled by a 1.3% increase in traffic.
The news also isn't so bad as we work our way down to the bottom line. The adjusted quarterly loss of $0.01 a share was a lot less red ink than the $0.12 a share shortfall that analysts expected.
Hello, Ruby Tuesday
It's not right to say that Ruby Tuesday is back. The chain that got its name from the classic Rolling Stones song might seem to be heading in the right direction -- posting positive comps in back-to-back quarters -- but things are pretty grim if we go a bit further back. A 1.1% gain in same-restaurant sales this past quarter is nice, but it can't overcome the 11.4% decline it posted during last year's fiscal first quarter. In other words, Ruby Tuesday is still nowhere near as popular as it was two years ago.
The one thing Ruby Tuesday has in its favor is that it's not standing still. Several years ago it tried go upscale by ditching its imitation Tiffany lamps and bric-a-brac decor in favor of dark wood and leather banquettes. The menu took an upscale turn, but it came at the worst possible time amid the recession that was coating the country. It also didn't help that the market wasn't ready to view Ruby Tuesday as a fancier eatery. It tried to go back to a more value-conscious center last year by promoting pretzel bun burgers and flatbreads at single-digit price points, but that also didn't fix things right away. However, now that Ruby Tuesday has continued to shake things up by adding 40 new menu items over the past year, the Lady Gaga of costume changes in casual dining could be finally be resonating with hungry consumers.
It's still too soon to tell. We're talking about a stock that has now been trading in the single-digits for more than three years. The good news is that Ruby Tuesday sees the recent baby steps continuing, including a sequential streak of positive comps stretching to three quarters during the new period. The company is also boosting its outlook for restaurant margins.
At least it's not Olive Garden
These are all encouraging developments at a time when some of its larger peers are reeling. Olive Garden parent Darden Restaurants (NYSE:DRI) got smacked on the wrist last week when shareholders voted out its boardroom nominees in favor of an entire slate of directors proposed by an activist investor. With casual dining still out of favor, antsy investors aren't as patient as they used to be.
While things aren't perfect at Ruby Tuesday -- the 749-unit chain expects to close significantly more locations than it opens here in fiscal 2015 -- at least it's heading in the right direction. That will keep shareholders content for the time being, and if the positive comps streak continues it wouldn't be surprising to see shares of Ruby Tuesday finally break through that $10 price ceiling after its three-year drought.
Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.