In addition to better staffing levels, Murphy owed Red Robin’s accelerating sales to investment in strategic initiatives, like pivoting to digital marketing, a vehicle that fueled “meaningful incremental” traffic in the third quarter. He said the transition allows the brand to target messaging by both geography and specific consumer segments.
Through the messaging, Red Robin was able to lead customers toward LTOs, including the Scorpion Burger, an item that has been so well-received that it earned a permanent spot on the menu. Also, the chain’s Cheese Lovers lineup is outperforming expectations by more than five times, and the new Mozzarella Cheese Sticks have become the No. 1 appetizer.
“We are reaching consumers with more relevant messaging that is also more cost-effective,” Murphy said. “In the fourth quarter, we will remain nimble and efficient with the bulk of our marketing investment in digital.”
Throughout the quarter, Red Robin was pressured by 7 percent wage inflation and nearly 9 percent commodity inflation. To mitigate costs, the chain increased prices by 3.5 percent in Q3. For the full year, the company projects mid-single digit commodity and wage inflation.
Red Robin also expects to finish 2021 with $45 to $55 million in capital expenditures, including investment in its Donatos expansion. The brand added pizza to another 38 stores in Q3 and will do another 40 in the fourth quarter. That should bring the total to roughly 200 stores by year’s end.
Donatos garnered $4.1 million in Q3, thanks to increased marketing support at certain locations. Restaurants that offered pizza for the full quarter and didn’t see supply chain issues saw same-store sales rise 4.3 percent versus 2019. Units that have served Donatos prior to 2021 and did not experience supply chain issues witnessed comps increase 8.7 percent.
In terms of development, the brand will open a high-volume restaurant in Federal Way, Washington, that was relocated because of eminent domain two years ago. That new store will have the company’s new prototype elements that improve dine-in, off-premises and curbside execution, and kitchen layout. In 2022, the brand will debut another store based upon this design, and will develop a real estate pipeline for resuming modest growth starting in 2023.
Red Robin earned $275.4 million in total revenue in Q3, an increase from $200.5 million in 2020, but a drop from $294.2 million in 2019. Restaurant level operating profit margin was 12.5 percent, an improvement from 8.6 percent in 2020, but a decrease from 16.1 percent two years ago.