PREVIEW-Restaurants eye holiday gains, wish Xmas was a weekday

* Restaurant holiday sales seen up 4-5 pct – IBIS World

* Add-on, ‘feel good’ orders to lift sales

* Saturday Christmas dents optimism a bit

* Starbucks, Panera, Texas Roadhouse seen winners

By Renju Jose and Nivedita Bhattacharjee

BANGALORE, Nov 30 (BestGrowthStock) – Recession-sapped diners will
splash a little more cash eating out this holiday season, and
restaurant chains will cash in by offering special festive
flavors to keep consumers coming back for more.

From Starbucks’ Christmas blends to egg nog ice cream
shakes at Jack in the Box (JACK.O: ) and pumpkin cheesecake at
California Pizza Kitchen (CPKI.O: ), restaurants hope diners
order drinks, starters, desserts and ‘feel good’ items that
weren’t on the dollar menus they chose the last two years.

Companies across the board will be looking for a festive
fillip after same-store sales dropped significantly in the past
two years, said KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst Brad Ludington.

“Consumer spending on restaurants, whether its fast food or
full service, is probably going to rise 4-5 percent this
holiday season from last year,” said IBIS World analyst Nima
Samadi.

“Value is very important, of course, but just through this
holiday period I think people put a bigger weight on the value
of experience versus the dollar value of the food,” said Stifel
Nicolaus analyst Steve West.

The one jarring note among the jingle of the cash-tills
this year, though, is that Christmas itself falls on a
Saturday.

Analysts cited Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O: ), Panera Bread Co
(PNRA.O: ), Texas Roadhouse (TXRH.O: ) and Cheesecake Factory
(CAKE.O: ) among those expected to lead the holiday recovery, but
noted it would be those firms with strategies to see them
beyond the festive season who would be the long-term winners.
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Comparative graphic on top picks: http://r.reuters.com/qak77q
Story on restaurants counting calories: [ID:nN18119559]
Story on opening holiday sales: [ID:nNN2529414]
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Kurt Salmon strategist Todd Hooper, who covers the
restaurant sector, said chains that club social networks into
their marketing will see the best traffic.

“Social media is even stronger than last year … also
special deals through Groupon and LivingSocial and the like
will be more prominent for restaurants this season,” he said.

Hooper’s picks include BJ’s Restaurants (BJRI.O: ), Buffalo
Wild Wings (BWLD.O: ), Starbucks, Tim Hortons Inc (THI.TO: ) and
Panera.

“Coming out of the holidays and into next year, the winners
will be chains that offer the richest experience — service,
atmosphere, good bar/lounge activities … they will be the
differentiators,” Hooper said.

“Food is always important, but not the whole story.”

SATURDAY BLUES

Putting a dent in business for some, however, is that
families tend to stay home on Christmas Day, a Saturday this
year.

Fridays and Saturdays are typically the busiest days for
restaurant chains.

California Pizza Kitchen, PF Chang’s China Bistro and BJ’s
all expect this to temper sales.

“The holiday shift should hurt both BJ’s and Buffalo Wild
Wings, but I’d say more for Buffalo Wild Wings,” said
Oppenheimer analyst Matthew DiFrisco.

Buffalo Wild Wings depends on customers flocking to its
bars to watch big-screen televised sports events, much of it
held over the weekend.

“Even during the recession, Friday and Saturday nights were
still pretty strong, but we saw the weakness in weekday lunches
and dinners,” said Stifel’s West. “If a weekend night is taken
out of the equation, that’s a big deal.”
(Reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Renju Jose in
Bangalore, Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

PREVIEW-Restaurants eye holiday gains, wish Xmas was a weekday