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Outback: Restaurants are reopening, but expanded takeout is here to stay

As it claws back from 2020, Outback and Carrabba’s parent Bloomin’ Brands will keep pushing takeout technology.
Server Asia Lancaster, left, delivers a to-go order of sirloin steak, chicken, and shrimp pasta to Ryan Dundee, of Clearwater, on May 8, 2020, in the parking lot at Outback Steakhouse in Palm Harbor. The company plans to invest more into takeout technology in 2021, hoping to capitalize on what it sees as a growth sector, even as more people come back into restaurants.
Server Asia Lancaster, left, delivers a to-go order of sirloin steak, chicken, and shrimp pasta to Ryan Dundee, of Clearwater, on May 8, 2020, in the parking lot at Outback Steakhouse in Palm Harbor. The company plans to invest more into takeout technology in 2021, hoping to capitalize on what it sees as a growth sector, even as more people come back into restaurants. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Apr. 29
Updated Apr. 29

Diners are coming back to Outback.

Bloomin’ Brands, the Tampa company behind Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill and other chains, told investors Thursday that revenue from January to March inched ever closer to pre-pandemic levels, while sales in April are up 12.6 percent over 2019.

At the same time, the company’s bottom line remains buoyed by takeout and delivery, as it has been throughout the past year. That’s not going away. In fact, the company is counting on it.

“Our goal is to maintain as much of that weekly volume as possible, and we’ve been very successful as dining rooms have reopened, to retain much of that,” CEO David Deno said on a quarterly earnings call Thursday.

To that end, Deno said the company plans to invest $20 million to $30 million in new technology this year — including a refreshed online sales portal and a new Outback app — to help keep takeout levels high.

“This is not a static event,” Deno said. “This is going to be something we’re going to continue to build and grow.”

Related: Outback owner grows virtual restaurants as it fights pandemic sales slump

Prior to the pandemic, takeout and delivery accounted for about 15 percent of sales at Outback, 20 percent at Carrabba’s and wasn’t a significant part of Bonefish Grill’s business, Deno said. For the most recent quarter, off-site sales accounted for 38 percent of the business at Outback, 42 percent at Carrabba’s and 25 percent at Bonefish Grill.

The company has also expanded fast-casual and drive-through options such as Tender Shack and Aussie Grill, which Deno said will continue.

For the most recent quarter, Outback saw revenues of $987 million, down from $1.1 billion in 2019. Net income of $68.9 million was up slightly over 2019 and marked the first quarter since 2019 that the company didn’t see a net loss.

Starting in late March, Bloomin’s U.S. business saw significant improvements as more states loosened social distancing and capacity restrictions. Deno also called the most recent round of stimulus checks sent out by the federal government “a catalyst for sales increases” over the past month.

“People want to come back to in-restaurant dining,” he said. “We’re keeping our off-premises sales, because sales are just so great.”

Bloomin’ Brands’ stock jumped more than $3 per share at the start of trading Thursday, settling slightly at around $31.50 before noon.