Bob Evans (NASDAQ:BOBE) warned in July that its first quarter would be weak. It was. Earnings fell a resounding 50%. So what lies ahead for this restaurant and food products company?

Look at same-store sales for the past two months and you'll get a sinking feeling in your stomach. The core Bob Evans Restaruants (86.2% of the restaurants owned by the company) experienced a 1.5% decline in August, even after an average menu price increase of 0.5%. In September, after an average menu price increase of 1%, same-store sales decreased 4.4%. That's not a pretty picture for this tired restaurant concept.

Mimi's Café (13.8% of restaurants) has been the company's growth engine. For a short time, it seemed like the ultimate ray of sunshine.

In July the company warned of impending trouble going forward and suspended earnings guidance. But it announced what seemed to be a great decision for 2005: It would open 15 new Mimi's Cafés (an increase of four over 2004), and it would open only 20 new Bob Evans Restaurants (down from 39 in 2004).

The logic was certainly to focus on the winner. But the winner has become winded. Mimi's reported a September same-stores sales increase of 0.1%. That's bad, especially considering there was a 1.3% average increase in menu prices.

The news from Cracker Barrel (NASDAQ:CBRL) confirms that the restaurant sales environment is getting tough. Same-store sales for its core restaurants fell 2.4% in September. Outback Steakhouse (NYSE:OSI) and Ruby Tuesday (NYSE:RI) are also reporting weak sales. Even Applebee's (NASDAQ:APPB), which had a modest 1.5% increase in August, said customer traffic was down in its company-owned units in September.

Analysts have been expecting Bob Evans to earn $0.97 a share in 2005 (down from $1.04 last year). To me, that looks like a bit of a stretch given the weak first quarter and the continued weakness in same-store sales. The stock, if it earns $0.97 a share, trades for 23.7 times forward earnings. And that's a little rich for my blood, especially when I'm looking at a company that, at best, is expected to compound earnings by 10% annually for the next five years.

In the current operating environment -- with flagship Bob Evans eateries struggling, and high oil prices and other macroeconomic factors stifling results at similar restaurant companies -- it's pretty hard for me to get excited about this stock.

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Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. Click here to see The Motley Fool's disclosure policy.