On the Margin
In a tough quarter, a few winners stand out

In a tough quarter, a few winners stand out

This post is part of the On the Margin blog.

Just about every restaurant company has recorded their same-store sales from the late summer and, well, it was just about as bad as we thought.

Same-store sales in the most recent quarter for restaurant chains averaged a decline of 0.4 percent. That’s roughly in line with industrywide same-store sales in the period, based on MillerPulse and Black Box Intelligence.

This quarter’s weakness, however, was marked by very big differences between the strongest concepts and the weakest. An incredible 34.9-percent gap separated the strongest performer (Domino’s Pizza Inc.) and the weakest (Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.).

Here are some of our winners and losers for the quarter:

Winner: Domino’s and Papa John’s. These two pizza chains are doing more to separate themselves from the pack in their own segment than any other concept in the country.

Domino’s recorded 13-percent same-store sales growth in the U.S. in its most recent quarter, while Papa John’s enjoyed 5.5-percent growth. Yet even with those two strong numbers, the overall performance of the publicly traded chains in that sector was a decline of 0.4 percent.

The chains have done this by focusing on making it easy to order their pizzas, which has helped generate sales, enabling them to grab market share.

Loser: Fast-casual pizza. Same-store sales at Pie Five fell 14.7 percent. This is just one chain, of course, and the only one that is publicly traded among several that are rapidly growing in a bid to generate market share in the fast-casual pizza business.

Yet Pie Five’s same-store sales have been deteriorating all year. Its same-store sales in the past four quarters have been, in chronological order, declines of 1.6 percent, 4 percent, 12 percent and now 14.7 percent.

Winner: Coffee and snack chains. Well, regardless of how people feel, they apparently still need their coffee. The segment led the industry with 2.3-percent same-store sales growth, including the usual 5-percent growth at Starbucks.

Winner: Olive Garden. Hey, remember when everybody was saying that Olive Garden was only for old people and that consumers just weren’t eating its carb-loaded pastas anymore?

Yeah, about that: The chain’s same-store sales rose 2 percent in its most recent quarter, thanks to improvements in service and to-go orders. That easily outpaced the casual-dining segment in the period.

Loser: Casual dining. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Same-store sales at casual-dining chains fell last quarter.

In this case, the decline of 1.2 percent was not the worst performance among segments, but it was close. The great majority of casual-dining chains reported declines, including an 8-percent decline at Bravo Brio, an 8.9-percent decrease at Brick House Tavern + Tap and a 6.5-percent drop at Joe’s Crab Shack.

Even Applebee’s, which had largely held serve in recent years as its casual-dining competitors struggled, had a tough quarter, with a 5.2-percent decline.

Winner: Del Taco. The Mexican chain recorded a 6.7-percent increase in same-store sales in the company’s third quarter. The chain, long known for its low-cost tacos and Mexican fare, has been using more premium items to attract new customers.

Loser: Chipotle. The worst-performing segment this quarter was fast casual, which averaged a 1.8-percent same-store sales decline. But take out just one company — Chipotle — and the segment's average same-store sales increased 0.7 percent. Chipotle’s 21.9-percent third quarter decline was, by far, the worst performance by a company in the quarter.

Winner: Colonel Sanders. Long-struggling KFC has some real momentum, and its 4-percent same-store sales growth in the third quarter easily bested the quick-service segment's 1.6-percent increase. KFC did this on the back of a popular ad campaign using various comedians who play the role of Colonel Sanders.

Jonathan Maze, Nation’s Restaurant News senior financial editor, does not directly own stock or interest in a restaurant company.

Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

TAGS: Sales Trends
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