Restaurant earnings roundup: Chuy’s, Taco Cabana, Pollo Tropical, Ruth’s Chris

A quick look at how small-cap restaurant companies are faring.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Financial postings from the industry’s largest restaurant chains show that big brands are settling into a new normal.  For small-cap operations, particularly in the full-service sector, the environment is proving far rockier.

Chuy’s: Big boost in margins

The 92-unit casual Tex-Mex chain boosted its restaurant-level profit margin during the fourth quarter of 2020 to 20%, from a year-ago level of 14.3%, boosting aggregate unit-level profits to $16 million. A significant portion of the savings came from the elimination of Chuy’s signature chips-and-salsa buffet, a complimentary spread known as the Nacho Car. Buffets and other self-serve stations were largely banned early in the pandemic because of fears they’d facilitate the spread of COVID-19.

Unit-level employee furloughs early in the pandemic also brought down labor expenses for the year.

Sales climbed on a same-store basis during Q4 to within 81.7% of pre-pandemic levels, and improved by almost another four points during the week ended Jan. 24.

Chuy’s reported a net income for Q4 of $1.8 million, compared with a year-ago loss of $1.4 million. Revenues for the period totaled $78.7 million, down 22.9%.

Taco Cabana, Pollo Tropical: Oh, those drive-thrus

The double whammy of the pandemic and bad weather caused some rocky times for the parent company of Taco Cabana and Pollo Tropical. But Fiesta Restaurant Group said during a Q4 call with analysts call late Thursday that its drive-thrus have been a saving grace

Dallas-based Fiesta reported total revenue decreased 6.6% to $148.9 million during the quarter ended Jan. 3. Same-store sales at Pollo Tropical fell 8.2% and declined 10% at Taco Cabana. 

Taco Cabana, which has many restaurants in Texas, is expected to have lost up to $3 million during last month’s snowstorm in which about 125 locations were hit with problems ranging from minor issues to major pipe, water and equipment damage, the company said.  

Both fast-casual brands saw drive-thru same-store sales growth of at least 24% year-over-year, helping to partially offset the loss of sales from dining room closures due to COVID. The operator is working on drive-thru enhancements to improve throughput.  

Ruth’s Chris: Q4 comps down 39.4%, mostly due to traffic

Parent Ruth’s Hospitality Group posted indications that its expense-account-dependent steakhouse brand hasn’t bounced back as strongly as have less-pricey casual-dining brands. Sales for the fourth quarter ended Dec. 27 were down on a comparable basis by 39.4% at company-operated restaurants. Same-store sales climbed to within 74.4% of pre-COVID levels during February.

Net profits for Q4 totaled $1.4 million, down 90.1% from a year ago, on revenues of $77.4 million, down 42.7%.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Trend or fad? These restaurant currents could go either way

Reality Check: A number of ripples were evident in the business during the first half of the year. The question is, do they have staying power?


Starbucks' value offer is a bad idea

The Bottom Line: It’s not entirely clear that price is the reason Starbucks is losing traffic. If it isn’t, the company’s new value offer could backfire.


Struggling I Heart Mac and Cheese franchisees push back against their franchisor

Operators say most of them aren't making money and want a break on their royalties. But they also complain about receiving expired cheese from closed stores. "Don't send us moldy product."


More from our partners