CEO of Bloomin' Brands Says Sales at Its Restaurants Are Up Over 2019 Levels, Finding Workers Is No Problem

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  • Sales at Bloomin' Brands in the first four weeks of Q2 were higher than at the same point in 2019, according to CEO David Deno.
  • Deno told CNBC that retaining delivery and carryout customers as dining rooms fill back up has been a crucial factor in the sales strength.
  • The company, parent of Outback Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill, has had no problem adequately staffing its restaurants, Deno said, as other businesses in the service sector have experienced.

Bloomin' Brands CEO David Deno told CNBC on Thursday the restaurant company's U.S. sales are higher than they were at this point two years ago and finding workers to keep pace with the Covid recovery has not been a challenge.

"Things are going really well in our restaurants. In fact, we're not only up versus 2020, but we're up 12.6% versus 2019, which was well ahead of the pandemic," Deno said in an interview on "The Exchange."

Those U.S. comparable sales figures cover the first four weeks of the second quarter, according to the company's first-quarter earnings release. Florida-based Bloomin' is the parent company of Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba's Italian Grill and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar.

Although Americans are feeling more comfortable returning to indoor dining as Covid vaccinations become widely available, Deno said the company's ability to continue appealing to takeout customers has been crucial in delivering that sales growth.

"Customers are coming back and enjoying our food in the restaurants and, importantly, we're keeping our off-premise delivery and carryout business as dining rooms reopen," said Deno, who joined Bloomin' Brands from Best Buy in 2012. He was named CEO in March 2019.

"Our goal is to sustain that carryout and delivery business that we had during the pandemic because people are now understanding that they can get great casual dining food at home," Deno added. By combining that with "great service" at its restaurants, Bloomin' hopes to "get the magic of the 'and' and get sales growth at the off-premises and in dine-in," he said.

Some restaurants and other businesses in the service sector say they are struggling to find workers to fill job openings as the U.S. economy picks up steam. However, that's not been a big problem for Bloomin', according to Deno. He cited the company's approach to its employees last year as the Covid pandemic took hold and plunged the economy into a recession.

"We made a decision last year not to furlough or let go not one person in our restaurants — not one — so when we turned the dining rooms back on and people came back in, we already had staff," Deno said. "So, we had a very high base and our retention levels are very high, our turnover is very, very low compared to the rest of the industry."

Last year, Bloomin' Brands said it sent "precautionary" notices of potential furloughs to thousands of restaurant employees as part of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, according to reporting in April 2020 from the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

"We have not had any layoffs and don't anticipate any at this time. In fact, to date, we have provided six weeks of relief pay to employees who currently do not have hours due to our dining rooms being closed," a spokeswoman for Bloomin' Brands told the Tampa Bay Business Journal at that time.

Deno told CNBC on Thursday that "of course, with 12% same-store sales growth, we've got to staff the restaurants and add more people, but we're able to do that from what we have to offer employees."

The company has not add to pay retention bonuses, he said. "People want to see two things. One, they ask what they're going to be paid, see what they're going to be paid. And ... they want to work in a great environment, and we feel we're able to offer both, and so we've been able to recruit the people that we need."

Shares of Bloomin' Brands closed up nearly 9% on Thursday to $31.38 apiece.

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