TAMPA — Bloomin’ Brands CEO David Deno knew the future was in delivery. He just didn’t expect it to become the crux of his restaurants so soon. Enter the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus has upended the global economy and shuttered restaurant dining rooms nationwide. That makes it a direct threat to Bloomin’ Brands, which owns Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar.
But the restaurant group was already pushing what it calls “off-premise dining” for the last few years, especially at Outback.
Now those investments are paying off.
"Having strong delivery and carryout business was instrumental in our success,” Deno said. “It enabled us to get through and get on to the next stage.”
The start of the pandemic was a major hit to overall sales. But the restaurant group says it has, on average, tripled carryout and delivery orders at each restaurant since the start of March.
Now the chains are reopening dining rooms with limited capacities. As of Thursday, the company said 355 locations were seating customers. The restaurant group will continue to open locations with safety measures in place as state governments allow. Florida now allows 25 percent of seating capacity, while Ohio will soon allow outside dining to resume May 15 and inside dining on May 21.
Bloomin’ Brands’ first quarter earnings came out on Friday, showing the restaurant group’s overall sales dropped 10.4 percent compared to the same period last year.
In the five weeks ending March 29, a period that includes 9 days of closed dining rooms, overall sales were down 31 percent.
First quarter revenue came in at $1.01 billion, a roughly $120 million dip from the prior year.
The strength of delivery helped cushion the virus’ blow to the restaurant company’s bottom line. Deno and the executive board also stopped taking salaries.
Before the coronavirus, restaurants had their own in-house delivery programs and also sent orders out to third-party delivery apps, like Door Dash. Deno said the restaurant-run delivery tends to serve long-time customers ordering family style bundles, while the apps capture a younger audience ordering for smaller parties.
A handful of carryout-only “express” Outback and Carrabba’s locations have been open as a trial for the last few years. In the last several weeks, Deno said those locations have performed “extremely well."
Even as dining rooms continue to reopen, Deno doesn’t think customer demand for ordering out will slow down — that trend was already growing prior to the outbreak,.
As a result of the virus, “the trends that were happening are going to happen faster and bigger now," Deno said.
Bloomin’ Brands’ stock was at about $22 per share in mid-February. It plummeted during the pandemic, but is climbing back up.
Shares were up about 13 percent by the close of market Friday at $11.19.
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