Talk about a stock that's been on a one-way ride to nowhere for the past year, and Brinker International (NYSE: EAT) fits the bill to a tee. After peaking last February around $35 per share, the hot peppers have danced their way down to just more than $15 at the end of last week. If you thought Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) was the biggest stock decline story recently, think again.

Sluggish growth
While the company continues to grow, the pace is sluggish. Fiscal 2007 sales slogged forward 5% on the strength of 11% unit growth. Comparable restaurant sales were down 2.7% and negative at all formats -- Chili's, On the Border, and Maggiano's. Operating income grew 8.2%, while EPS growth was healthier in the mid-double digits from share repurchases.

First-quarter fiscal 2008 sales looked a little better, with comp sales flat overall and positive at both Chili's and Maggiano's. But the second quarter is expected to be a rerun of last year. The company gave an early peek at expected results a few weeks ago, guiding investors toward comp sales down 2%, and earnings from continuing operations of $0.30-$0.31 compared to $0.33 last year.

Bottoming out?
This leads Foolish investors to wonder where the bottom could be for this stock. It's already trading at a trailing-12-month P/E just north of 8x, with a PEG ratio of 0.8 -- this for a company that pays a dividend of more than 2%. In the casual dining world, I guess growth is all that counts.

There's no denying that times are tough in the world of casual dining. Ruby Tuesday (NYSE: RT), Darden Restaurants (NYSE: DRI), and Panera Bread (Nasdaq: PNRA) have all fallen off the map in recent months. Even growth star Buffalo Wild Wings (Nasdaq: BWLD) is looking shaky.

Buy, sell, or hold?
While I think eight times trailing earnings is a pessimistic valuation for Brinker, the upcoming year will likely be a difficult one for casual dining chains, both because of a soft economy and competition that remains brutal.

I'm keeping my eye on this stock for any hint of improvement. Tomorrow's earnings release will provide further guidance on the company's 2008 prospects, but I just don't see a lot of good news coming from the company in the near term. Unless second-quarter results suggest otherwise, I think investors are better off dining elsewhere.

For more on casual dining restaurants, check out:

Panera Bread is a Hidden Gems Pay Dirt recommendation. Buffalo Wild Wings is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems selection. The Motley Fool owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings Starbucks was picked by Stock Advisor. Any service is free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Timothy M. Otte surveys the retail scene from Dallas. He welcomes comments on his articles, but doesn't own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.