Operations

Texas Roadhouse leads rebound in steakhouse visits

People have flocked back to steak chains over the past year, according to Placer.ai. And the category leader stands apart from the herd.
Texas Roadhouse interior
Photograph: Shutterstock

Even the omicron wave couldn’t keep people away from Texas Roadhouse.

Customers have returned to the 610-unit steakhouse chain in droves over the past year, with visits peaking at 33.4% in July compared to 2019 levels, according to a new report from foot traffic analytics firm Placer.ai.

Dine-in demand has remained resilient even amid the peaks and valleys of COVID-19, suggesting there is more growth ahead for the chain and the category at large. Roadhouse visits exceeded 2019 levels by nearly 15% in December, according to Placer, even as cases of the omicron variant began to spread. That trend continued into this year, with visits to Roadhouse outpacing 2020 numbers every week but one during the omicron surge.

Steak chains in general were among the biggest winners in year two of the pandemic, benefiting from pent-up demand for dining out as restrictions eased and more people got vaccinated. Roadhouse’s main rival, 539-unit LongHorn Steakhouse, saw traffic increase 11.1% in 2021 compared to 2019, Placer found. Smaller chains like The Capital Grille, Firebirds and Colton’s Steak House also notched consistent double-digit visit increases in 2021, all peaking in July at around 30%.

“I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd see the kind of absolute numbers that we saw this summer in fine dining,” said Gene Lee, CEO of Capital Grille and LongHorn owner Darden Restaurants, during an earnings call in the fall. 

The latest COVID-19 surge depressed visits across all of these chains. But only at Texas Roadhouse did visit counts stay consistently positive as cases hit record highs in the U.S., impacting both consumer behavior and restaurant capacity as workers called out sick. 

Roadhouse visits were up nearly 6% compared to 2020 during the week of Jan. 10, according to Placer, which was around the time COVID-19 cases peaked. The four other chains tracked by Placer saw visits decline that week vs. two years ago.

But by Valentine’s Day, customers were rushing back to all five brands as the omicron wave had largely subsided. The Capital Grille saw visits increase by a whopping 51% the week of March 7 compared to 2020, according to Placer, and Firebirds was not far behind at 47%.

"These chains’ impressive foot traffic numbers show that despite the difficult circumstances, some sit-down chains have managed to not only weather the storm but maintain impressive growth," Placer wrote in its report.

At Roadhouse and others, the increased dine-in traffic is typically coming alongside more to-go business. And the Louisville, Ky.-based chain believes it has more room to grow in the dining room.

“Our peak hours, we are jamming. We are busy and we have long waits,” said CEO Jerry Morgan during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call last month. “So there is still opportunity prior to that in our early segment and maybe even our last segment and maybe even some of our Saturday lunch.”

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