Restaurant results show consumers dining out again

First-quarter reports from public restaurant companies rolled in this week and have highlighted a long-awaited return of guest traffic after nearly two years of eateries losing customers who have been reluctant to spend.

Restaurant executives from McDonald’s, Chipotle, The Cheesecake Factory and Brinker International all said they have begun to see increased traffic trends, leading to same-store sales improvements and increased bottom lines.

“Guest traffic improved significantly from fourth-quarter levels,” said David Overton, chairman and chief executive of The Cheesecake Factory Inc., “and we believe that as consumers become more comfortable with discretionary spending, they are returning to their favorite restaurants first.”

Jack Hartung, chief financial officer at Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., said during a conference call this week that it appears consumers are out spending again.

“It looks like consumer confidence, from all the different resources we’ve seen, consumers are more confident today,” he said.

After the market closed Thursday, The Cheesecake Factory and BJ’s Restaurants Inc. kept the industry’s momentum going.

The Cheesecake Factory Inc.: Corporate net income for the quarter ended March 30 totaled $18.7 million, or 31 cents per share, compared with earnings of $10 million, or 17 cents per share, in the same quarter a year ago.

Revenue rose 3 percent to $405.4 million, which reflected same-store sales increases of 2.7 percent at the company’s namesake chain and 4 percent at Grand Lux Cafe.

BJ’s Restaurants Inc.: Corporate net income for the quarter ended March 30 totaled $4.4 million, or 16 cents per share, compared with earnings of $3.8 million, or 14 cents per share, in the same quarter a year earlier.

Revenue rose about 19 percent to $121.7 million, which reflected a same-store sales increase of 4.4 percent.

“During the last two recessionary years, some of our competitors adopted a defensive philosophy of saving their way to success, and either deferred or eliminated many investments that might have added more quality and value to their concepts,” said Jerry Deitchle, chairman and chief executive. “At BJ's, we continued to prudently invest in new restaurant growth as well as in our food, service, facilities, talent base and support infrastructure, so that we will be well-positioned to emerge from the recession as an even stronger market-share 'taker' in the estimated $80 billion casual dining segment over the longer term.”

Contact Sarah E. Lockyer at [email protected]