Morton's Restaurant Group, Inc. Q1 2010 Earnings Call Transcript

Morton's Restaurant Group, Inc. Q1 2010 Earnings Call Transcript
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Morton's Restaurant Group, Inc. (MRT)

Q1 2010 Earnings Call Transcript

May 5, 2010 5:30 pm ET


Christopher Artinian – President and CEO

Ron DiNella – SVP, CFO and Treasurer


Rachel Schacter – Oppenheimer

Jeff Omohundro – Wells Fargo

Nicole Miller – Piper Jaffray

Bryan Elliott – Raymond James

Imran Ali – Jefferies



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Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the first quarter 2010 Morton's Restaurant Group Incorporated earnings conference call. My name is Ivez and I will be your operator for today. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. We will conduct a question-and-answer session towards the end of the conference. (Operator Instructions)

I would now like to turn the call over to Christopher Artinian, President and CEO. Please proceed, sir.

Christopher Artinian

Good afternoon. This is Chris Artinian, President and CEO of Morton's Restaurant Group. Thank you for joining us today to discuss results for fiscal 2010 first quarter, which ended April 04, 2010. With me is Ron DiNella, our Senior Vice President and CFO.

Welcome to each of you who have called in and those of you listening to our webcast. Ron will now discuss our financial results and provide some comments on forward-looking statements.

Ron DiNella

Thank you, Chris, and good afternoon. This conference call follows our earning news release issued earlier today and is available on our website at under the Investor Relations tab.

Before we begin our formal remarks, I must remind everyone that our discussion today may include forward-looking statements. Except for the historical information, the matters to be addressed are forward-looking statements that involve certain risks, uncertainties, and assumptions. These statements are not guarantees for future performance and results could differ materially from those contained in the forward-looking and therefore, undue reliance should not be put upon them.

We refer all of you to our filings with the SEC, including our Forms 10-Q, 8-K, and Form 10-K for a more detailed discussion of the risks that could impact our future operating results and financial condition.

At this time, I will turn the call over to Chris Artinian.

Christopher Artinian

Thank you, Ron. Since taking over as President and CEO on February 1st, 2010, I've been travelling to our restaurants across the country to ensure that our message is clear for all of our employees. It's my personal goal to keep our staff clearly focused on what makes Morton's the gold standard in fine dining.

Our mission statement and core values are the essentially framework for our company's culture. We continually strive for perfection in executing every detail in our operations. Perfect food, outstanding service, and warm, genuine hospitality is the core of our business. Morton's has always had great pride in the fact we have never comprised our commitment to the finest quality products and that has enabled us to consistently deliver the best dining experience to our guests. In doing so, we continue to enhance our worldwide reputation as we feature the best steak anywhere.

As we stated in our 2009 fiscal fourth quarter earnings call, we began to see a modest increase in comparable restaurant revenues in December of 2009. This trend continued throughout the fiscal 2010 first quarter. We are seeing a gradual increase in business travel, which has had a direct effect in benefitting our Monday through Thursday business. This increase in midweek business is both in the dining room, as well as private dining. Our check average has also begun to strengthen with the return of business dining and travel.

Our restaurant managers tell us they continue to hear from our guests and need to have face time in building relationships with their clients. New Orleans, Atlanta, and other cities have experienced a modest return of convention business positively impacting traffic as well. This little, but continuous improvement of business travel, conventions, and entertaining is having a positive impact on our business. Morton's remains focused on ensuring we deliver our brand promise daily by providing an exceptional dining experience for our guests.

Consistent with Morton's improving results, hotels are reporting RevPAR and occupancy increases and American Express has cited improved corporate spending. Over the past few months, we have reviewed several items on our menu as we continually strive to enhance our menu offerings. As a result, we are testing several new items in select restaurants that we are very excited about offering to all of our guests.

In addition to the focus on our menu, we also continue to evaluate opportunities to expand and invest in our business. We have 29 restaurants remaining to convert our existing bars into our Bar 12-21 concept and this includes a dining room remodel as well for each of these restaurants. In doing so, historically, we've seen an increase of approximately $300,000 to $400,000 in annual revenue. We also continue to look at opportunities to reposition several of our older restaurants from basement locations to more prominent street-level exposure.

Finally, we continue to evaluate strategic growth opportunities, both domestically and internationally. Each one of our Morton's employees is committed to providing an exceptional dining experience for our guests, while we continue to maintain effective cost management. Morton's is fully committed to ensuring that we deliver on our brand promise to our employees, our guests, and our investors and to continue to enhance our reputation as the world's best steakhouse.

The following are actions, steps we have taken to drive sales through our marketing initiatives, profit enhancements, and cost management programs. Our marketing and public relations programs are designed to be top-of-mind, drive guest frequency, further enhance Morton's brand image, and position Morton's as the ideal restaurant and dining experience for our guests including the many celebrities who visit. We always strive to continue to create and develop new ideas and creative events. We have recently placed all of our special events under the brand Prime Events.

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