The dominant narrative lately is that Quick Service Restaurants (formerly known as, cough, "fast food"), fast casual restaurants and fine dining establishments are, for the most part, doing well. Millennials love experiences and, judging from the volume of Instas featuring Avo Toast, food = experiences. Unless, that is, we're talking about "casual dining" establishments likeRuby Tuesday, Joe's Crab Shack, and others. Why eat subpar food and sit staring at your phone when you can subscribe to Blue Apron, make food at home, and sit staring at your phone? Well, throw in some bread sticks and you just may combat that narrative. So is the story with Olive Garden (owned by Darden Restaurants Inc. ($DRI)), apparently, as the chain reported same store sales growth of 4.4% and 4th straight quarter beat. Note, however, that profits fell on higher costs. With food prices lower, we wonder whether CACs have increased...?
Ignite Restaurant Group (see profile below) - owner of the Joe's Crab Shack and Brick House Tavern + Tap - is the latest victim of the trends befalling the casual dining segment. That said, this story is a bit more complex than that and the bankruptcy seems to be the result of a perfect storm of poor acquisitions, poor execution and hubris. Oh, and private equity once again getting the upper hand - here, Golden Gate Capital dumping the Macaroni Grill dog before it's brand value diminished even farther than it already had. Now Kelly Investment Group is looking to buy the company for a fraction of the company's secured debt. Ouch. Notably, KIG also purchased Last Call Operating Co. (owner ofChampps and Fox & Hound) out of bankruptcy last year.
The QSR segment has been exploding with recent M&A activity, see, e.g., Checkers and Rally's Burgers, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Jimmy John's Sandwiches, Cici's Pizza, Wetzel's Pretzel's Brand, and Panera Bread Co. Meanwhile, the casual dining segment is, for the most part, getting DECIMATED with, as just two examples, Applebee's reporting same store comps down 7.9% and IHOP down 1.7%. Publicly-traded Ignite Restaurant Group ($IRGT)(home of Joe's Crab Shack - which sounds REAL tasty) looks like it's a bankruptcy filer sometime in the very near future. To be fair, though, there are some bright spots, including Bloomin' Brands' Outback Steakhouse (note: on the other hand, Bloomins' Carrabbas Italian Grill is cratering)($BLMN). Meanwhile, millennials are apparently passing on lunch - which doesn't portend well for restaurants - because they are eating healthy snacks. Like potato chips. Not kidding (video). Come again?