Excluding markets not fully open for indoor dining in Q1, which is about 14 percent of the system, Chili’s was down 1.3 percent for Q3 and grew 3.6 percent in September.
The main challenge has been Maggiano’s, which saw company-run comps slide 38.6 percent in Q1. It ended September down 32.5 percent. The chain earned $53.6 million in Q1 revenue, a decrease from $90.4 million last year, or a 36.8 percent difference. Traffic in the quarter declined nearly 29 percent.
“Polished casual is obviously a more challenged segment that’s facing greater headwinds,” Roberts said. “But Maggiano’s team is doing a great job managing their cost structure and flow through. We feel good about where Maggiano’s is from a relative perspective, and we’re excited about the bold strategies Steve Provost and the team are putting in place to build the business.”
CFO Joe Taylor said that in a typical second quarter, Maggiano’s has historically performed strongly because of celebratory events around the holiday. That’s expected to change this year because of COVID restrictions.
He said the company anticipates Q2 operating margins to be relatively similar compared to the prior year, which consists of an improving Chili’s offset by a dragging Maggiano’s.
“This is a very outsized earnings quarter for that Maggiano’s piece of the equation,” Taylor explained. “Again, that’s specific to the second quarter, so as we move further into the year that tends to mitigate itself.”
Chili’s ended Q1 with 1,607 units—1,064 company-owned and 543 franchises. Maggiano’s had 53 units, one of them being a U.S. franchise. Chili’s is expected to open four domestic stores and three international locations in Q1.
Roberts said projecting whether Chili’s sales trends will continually improve is a complicated question given tight restrictions in major markets such as California.
The CEO said if restrictions lessen and everyone can open dining rooms at a limited capacity, there’s growth potential for Chili’s in a COVID world.
“And then obviously the big upside comes when COVID moves away,” Roberts said. “Again, given that 30 percent is saying they’re not going to restaurants until there is a vaccine, that tells you there’s some pent-up demand out there. Now they’re using takeout and delivery, but that tells you our dining rooms have a lot of potential to get very busy once there is a vaccine.”