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Chains cite more evidence of a tough past month

Restaurant chains continued Wednesday to report weak sales results for last month, with Panera Bread Co. posting just a 1.2-percent systemwide same-store sales gain for the five weeks ended May 29, and Brinker International disclosing a 2.8 percent drop across its various brands for the four weeks concluded May 30.

Although Panera posted a gain, the results were anemic for a brand that typically boasts high single digit increases. The slower sales, coupled with "margin pressures," led the St. Louis-based company to slash its second-quarter, per-share earnings expectations to between 38 cents and 40 cents from previous guidance of between 47 cents and 51 cents. A year ago, the bakery-café operator or franchisor earned 44 cents per share.

The company said same-store sales for the second quarter, which ends in June, are expected to rise between 1.5 percent and 2.5 percent, down from original projections of gains between 3.5 percent and 4.5 percent. The bad news pushed Panera's stock price down nearly 14 percent on Wednesday.

Panera operates or franchises about 1,101 outlets under the Panera and St. Louis Bread Co. brands.

Brinker's flagship Chili's Grill & Bar chain reported a 3-percent decline. Same-store sales fell 2.1 percent at Romano's Macaroni Grill, 4.2 percent at On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina and 1.5 percent at Maggiano's Little Italy. Brinker and its franchisees operate 1,756 restaurants under the four brands.

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