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Wicked weather batters Feb. sales of casual-dining giants

Restaurant industry bellwethers reported negative same-store sales trends for February and blamed the severe winter weather that much of the country experienced for chilled sales.

Applebee’s International Inc., CBRL Group Inc. and OSI Restaurant Partners Inc. were the first of many restaurant concerns to report what analysts expect to be weak February sales throughout the industry, especially in the casual-dining segment.

Quick-service companies are not expected to feel the same negative effect from the snowstorms that blanketed most of the Midwest and Northeast last month. Still, Sonic Corp. reported late last month that “harsh weather” in late January would drive same-store sales results for its second quarter near or under the low end of its previous expectation of 2-percent to 4-percent growth.

Applebee’s, operator or franchisor of 1,942 namesake units, making it the largest casual-dining chain, reported a 4-percent drop in domestic systemwide same-store sales for the four weeks ended Feb. 25. CBRL, operator of 551 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurant and gift shops, said same-store restaurant sales for the four weeks ended Feb. 23 declined 1.3 percent.

Overland Park, Kan.-based Applebee’s and Lebanon, Tenn.-based CBRL said severe winter weather had suppressed February same-store sales by as much as 2.5 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

Applebee’s said guest traffic at its corporate locations declined between 5.5 percent and 6 percent from year-earlier levels, matching the same negative traffic trends experienced last summer when gas prices hit record highs and consumers tightened spending.

Tampa, Fla.-based OSI, which owns or is franchisor of 1,429 restaurants under eight brands, reported negative sales trends at four of its concepts, including a1.3-percent drop in systemwide same-store sales at its flagship Outback Steakhouse chain for the four weeks ended Feb. 24.

OSI said same-store sales fell 2 percent at Carrabba’s Italian Grill, 1.1 percent at Bonefish Grill and 1.4 percent at Roy’s, but rose 6 percent at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar.

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