Carrabba’s Italian Grill has become a surprise star in Bloomin’ Brands’ restaurant portfolio.
The 219-unit casual Italian chain, which was largely stagnant in the years before the pandemic, has been a completely different business since, thanks to big takeout and delivery sales and a suddenly booming catering business.
Same-store sales at the brand increased by 10.3% in the company’s fourth quarter ended Dec. 27. Off-premise accounted for 36% of all sales. And catering, which Bloomin' CEO Dave Deno described as "virtually negligible” for the company before the pandemic, grew 46% at Carrabba’s in 2021 compared to 2019.
“That is a piece of our portfolio that is now an opportunity,” Deno said of Carrabba’s on Friday. “If you talked to us two years ago, we would say it's a great business, but it may not be the place that we are today.”
“We've got a whole new business here that we've never had before.”
Now, Deno said, the challenge for the chain will be to improve upon its stellar performance in 2021. Whether it can do that will help determine Bloomin’s plans for growing it.
“They got to grow it and we got to make it work,” Deno said. “That doesn't mean that [SVP of Business Development] Mark Graff is going to wait behind and wait to see what happens. But we want to see these businesses continue to grow.”
Tampa-based Bloomin’ is ready to start opening new restaurants “in a meaningful way,” Deno said, but those efforts will be focused on Outback Steakhouse and Fleming’s Steakhouse as well as the Brazilian market for now.
Outback’s expansion will feature smaller-format stores that are more takeout- and delivery-focused, Deno said. Fleming’s will get new stores in core markets in California, Texas, Florida and Nevada.
The 64-unit steakhouse chain has been another bright spot for Bloomin’ as consumers have shown an appetite for steak since pandemic restrictions began to lift last year. Fleming’s same-store sales were up 20.3% in the fourth quarter.
Same-store sales at the flagship Outback increased 2.5% in the quarter on a two-year basis and 1.3% at Bonefish Grill. Bloomin’s restaurant-level operating margins for the quarter remained among the strongest in the casual-dining segment at 16.5%.
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